Friday, June 26, 2009

The Girlfriend Experience, Steven Soderburgh, & We're All Boring Now

I wanted to hate this movie after reading a few reviews, particularly since I've had my ups and downs with Soderburgh over the years. I recall being on a friend's sisters' couch in Morro Bay and being mesmerized by the quiet intensity of sex, lies, and videotape and I also recall seeing Bubble, after reading about how Soderburgh "got" the concept of the long tail, and hated every single moment. I enjoyed the sly cleverness of Oceans 11, but gagged on the overwrought slickness of Oceans 12 that left a rainbow sheen on my television. I went along with his method directing of period techniques in The Good German, but thinking I would be less forgiving of such wankery if the film didn't deliver.

In The Girlfriend Experience, we see scenes of Manhattan teetering on the precipice of the collapse on everyone's lips and the nervousness of the lesser elites seeing Obama as inevitable. Is this capitalism at the crossroads? Everything is commodified and no sphere of life is immune, including intimacy. Adult film star Sasha Grey is Chelsea, a high-end callgirl who has a quiet confidence fueling ambitions, but these ambitions are tied to the excesses of capitalism and a line of work that deadens the soul. Or was Chelsea dead inside already? Some critics are quick to judge Sasha's flat affect, but they miss the point. The realism of Bubble is given a more salacious story and what is bubbling under Sasha's blank coolness are simmering, seething emotions like those in sex, lies, and videotape. Everyone is vapid in the film. Everyone is a cog in the machine. Desires are portrayed in way that makes it clear that today's world is interested in simulation and simulacrum that approaches the real, but can get placed back on the shelf before it gets inconvenient. One client figures it out on the fly, therapy, nah, I'll get a hooker.

I need more than this. A voyeuristic glimpse into high-end sex work with mechanical handwaving to larger societal issues can be interesting, if the audience gets a sense of payoff. We do see that Chelsea knows the game she plays, but also is vulnerable as a person, as she's merely the narcotic fix. We see her guard come down here and there, in one memorable scene {above}, she confesses to a client how she was used without the safety of flattering lighting. Her meaning is attached to being beautiful simulacrum in designer packaging, but since she has no substance, it's hard for the audience to empathize.

The film clocks in at 78 minutes and is visually interesting. I think Soderburg was on to something here, but audiences aren't going to see themselves as Chelseas caught up in variants of the same game. I didn't want to see a more interesting Chelsea, but rather the tricky connection made that our smug selves may well be just as boring, vapid, and inane. I think it would have been interesting to play with the zeitgeist of the fall of 2008, having the audience contemplate, through the narrative, the future and meaning of their own lives after 16 years of life under "bubbas."

Song:: "Beautiful" - Belle and Sebastian

Video:: Trailer

Twitterversion:: #newblogpost #Soderburg 's The Girlfriend Experience is voyeurism w/out payoff.Characters vapid,but in the end,aren't we? @Prof_K

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