4.28.2016

From the archives: "Sex and economics"


Sasha Grey and Elon Dershowitz in The Girlfriend Experience (dir. Steven Soderbergh, 2009).

On the occasion of Steven Soderbergh’s The Girlfriend Experience having been re-imagined as a cable series for Showtime, I decided to look up my review of the film, written back in February of 2009, when this blog was but a twinkle in my eye.  (I was maintaining a different blog at the time, but that’s another story for another day.)  In tracking down my review of The Girlfriend Experience I discovered a whole host of other pieces, most of which I wrote between 2007 and 2008, but some of which go back even further to 2004-2005, when I was a college student at SUNY Geneseo writing for a short-lived campus news-radio show called The Weekly Review; still others date back to 2001-2002, my senior year of high school (!).  Anyway.  It occurred to me that it might be fun to dig these up and post some highlights, for better or worse.  My original title for this piece was “The Girlfriend Experience: or, Is the Oldest Profession Recession-Proof?”

There are some who might complain that, coming after the very Serious (but dull) Che, this meandering, somewhat plotless film starring a porn actress (Sasha Grey) seems comparatively cheap and artless.  But for all its ambition Che is a film that left me cold and emotionally disengaged.  It was Soderbergh aiming for importance with a capital I.  The Girlfriend Experience is in many ways a meatier and more intellectually stimulating film; in the way that his sex, lies, and videotape used a bare-bones cast and straightforward plot to tap into thorny issues of intimacy, vulnerability, and technology, The Girlfriend Experience is ostensibly “about” the breakup of a female escort and her live-in boyfriend in order to explore the overlappings of money, sex, and commitment.  It’s a reminder that, when he’s not off making glossy trash like the Oceans films, Soderbergh can channel himself into doing provocative and intelligent work.

[…] Chelsea, played by Sasha Grey, moves throughout a series of urban spaces: she goes on “dates” with her male clients, she has lunch with financial consultants and gathers tips on the recession, on marketing her services on the Internet, on soliciting press from a “connoisseur” of sex-for-pay (played hilariously in a cameo by film critic Glenn Kenny).  She comes home, at the end of the day, to the chic apartment she shares with a long-term boyfriend who works as a personal trainer trying to manage his own career and gain some financial security.  And we hear, in matter-of-fact voice-over, passages from a log wherein she keeps track of her meetings with clients—what dress she wore, what they talked about over dinner, how and if they had sex.  One recalls the montage sequence in the middle of Vivre Sa Vie, in which Godard imagines Nana’s prostitution as a flurry of mundane details seen in quick close-ups.  Godard also gave us statistics about prostitution in that film, and here we’re also made very aware of the economic gains and losses of prostitution—prostitution as a business not so unlike any other business.  (Soderbergh draws connections between Chelsea’s work and that of her boyfriend, the trainer who also spends his days working intimately with the bodies of strangers and imagines himself to have built “relationships” with them.)  One of the jokes of the film seems to be that this film that would seem to be sex-drenched—Sasha Grey is reputedly the most popular female actor currently working in the porn industry—is virtually sexless; the film is not about sex at all, but rather about economics, or perhaps more accurately the place where the two come together.”

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