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Steven Soderbergh doesn't care what you think. They'll be teaching his films at USC as sacrosanct because the man knows how to operate a camera. Since the shaky cam days of sex, lies, and videotape, Soderbergh's been pulling some highly experimental stunts. Anyone who's ever sat through the cotton-bunting mindfuck that is Schizopolis can appreciate the mad artistry of Soderbergh's work. But that doesn't make it good. More often than not Soderbergh misses the mark by extreme measures. While I commend him for having the integrity to take risks -- though really, with his bank account and contact lists, at what point does it go from avant garde to self-gratification? And he still fucked the bucket on this one. The Girlfriend Experience is an unpleasant romantic dramedy slumped drunkenly over lazy political commentary and rich bitching. Through a slipshod time shuffled narrative, we're expected to give a shit about two bland emotionless twats. Like everything else that apes Bret Easton Ellis and misses, it grays out anything remotely intriguing with handheld camera shots and a constant shadow. The stunt casting of porn star Sasha Grey only reinforces that her best work is done up close and from the hips down. If this masturbatory fetishit was a first time film student's project, it would be execrable but understandable. The fact that it came from Soderbergh makes it inexcusable. If you want to make experimental films, keep that shit on the festival circuit where it belongs.
The tissue thin story is simple: Chelsea (Sasha Grey) is an escort -- a lady of the night just trying to make it in this rough-and-tumble economy. Rich fat old white guys whine to her about their rich fat old white jobs and then fuck her and give her thousands of dollars. Meanwhile, she's trying to make her relationship work with Chris (Chris Santos) -- a personal trainer just trying to make it in the rough-and-tumble economy. Rich fat old white guys pay him to say inspirational things while they sweat on him. Yes, I get the parallel that fitness gurus aren't much different than hookers. I got that from the trailer. Most of this film could have been condensed to a short film, but instead, it's stretched out like our star's cooter to a ridiculously pathetic running time of 78 minutes.
The leads were cast as if Soderbergh went to a Camden mall and found celebrity look-alikes. Neither has any charisma to speak of, so what hope we had of empathizing with them goes out the door on a raft of talentless complaining. Chris Santos is a lethal combination of Mark Ruffalo and the dark haired Backstreet Boy. He went to the Charlie Day School of shrill loud talking, but missed the semester where they tell you it only works in malicious unpleasant comedies, and only if you sing "Day Man." Sasha Grey looks like a cross between Keira Knightley and Mr. Incredible. Taking that much cock to the jaw is bound to dent it out like the trunk of a Crown Victoria with a trashing Girl Scout tied up in it. Oh god, my cookies!!! If there were ANY sort of gratuitous or explicit nudity going on in the film at all (not even a nipple peaking out), Sasha Grey's casting would make sense. Instead, she stumbles listlessly through the film mumbling her lines and trying to act classy. She's about as emotive as the devices often found wedged in her various orifi.
Porn stars can be used to great effect, if it makes sense in the plot. Katie Morgan was terrific in Zack and Miri -- as a ditzy porn actress. Ron Jeremy's funny -- because he fucking looks weird. Traci Lords is great in Zombie Strippers because she plays a stripper. I understand the thought process behind casting a porn star as a high-class hooker. The problem is Sasha Grey. An escort is supposed to be eye-candy: smoky, alluring, sensual, seductive, Samoa, thin mint. Anyone can take beer money and go get a five-dollar foot long down at the pier. These are supposed to be angels crafted from the finest parts of mankind. Sasha Grey isn't even kinda hot, especially for a porn star. I'm not even making the obvious attack at her lack of rack because there are any number of World Cup A-Cups. Sasha Grey looks like she'd be better off as a stand-in for an Amy Fisher docu-drama.
Soderbergh expects us to feel bad for this arsenal of assholes, these horrible people that complain about the recession and the election with all the understanding of someone who spends most of their time glancing at the CNN Headlines in airport bars. It draws half-assed parallels between sex-for-hire and fitness instructors, seedy johns and online critics, the haves and the have-nots. It's mostly whining and empty gabbing, coupled with occasional glimpses at lingerie and fat guys lamenting. So maybe it is a girlfriend experience after all.
Brian Prisco lives in a pina down by the mer-port of Burbank, by way of the cheesesteak-laden arteries of Philadelphia. Any and all grumblings can be directed to priscogospel at hotmail dot com.