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THE GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE
Blu-ray Edition

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Sasha Grey, Chris Santos, Peter Zizzo
Director:  Steven Soderbergh
Audio:  DTS HD 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio:  Magnolia Home Entertainment
Features:  Commentary, HDNET featurette
Length:  78 Minutes
Release Date:  September 29, 2009

“Could you ever be in an open relationship?”

“Open on which end?”

Film *

It could be that Steven Soderbergh is simply a director I don’t ‘get’, but when I come across a film of his like The Girlfriend Experience and see the cover box littered with obsequious sounding praise from critics everywhere, I do often wonder if it’s a peer pressure type of thing…is admitting that a Soderbergh film is pointless, boring and makes no sense akin to some kind of intellectual circle suicide?

Soderbergh tends to put too much faith that certain aspects of his film will be enough to maintain interest.  Here, you do have an intriguing story of a high-priced escort who offers wealthy clients “the girlfriend experience”…instead of just sex, she can offer emotional and mental intimacy.  Those who pay her aren’t looking for one-offs, but a continuing role playing experience.  They can take her out to dinner, talk to her, even kiss on the mouth, usually a no-no in prostitution.  She can be whatever her customers needs to be.

Soderbergh also assumed the fact that his movie would feature porn star Sasha Grey in her first mainstream film role would be another factor that would guarantee our interest for the long haul.  But these are only enough to get us through the door.  Once we’re there, we need him to do something with his material to keep us motivated.  He does nothing.

The films of Steven Soderbergh are fractured, listless, and hard to follow…apart from meaningless comic larks like the Ocean’s Eleven movies (are there actually eleven of them by now?  I’ve lost count), I watch his offerings and feel like there’s no script and no editing guidelines.  Scenes are choppy, have no flow or rhythm, and seem to fluctuate throughout time and space without any reason or real sense of there being a method to the madness.

This is a prime example of the Soderbergh experience, if you will.  People talk and talk, scenes jump around, there is no emotional investment in any of the characters, and by the end of it, even at a mercifully short running time of 78 minutes, you feel like a piece of your life has been irretrievably wasted.

Sasha Grey’s appearance as Chelsea in this movie might serve no real purpose other than to demonstrate why most adult film actors never break into the mainstream.  She doesn’t offer us much of anything here, although maybe her director only wanted her to look frequently bored, stay within a monotone, smile, shrug, and be pretty.  But man, did he miss out on a chance to connect with his audience and actually have us care about the character.  When you don’t have that, the rest is just filler.

Then again, maybe Soderbergh offers his audience here IS the ultimate girlfriend experience.  We pay our money, we get to pretend we’re engaging something meaningful, and at the end of the day, we shrink away quietly unfulfilled.

Video ***

This movie was never intended for theatrical distribution…it actually made its debut as a pay-per-view film, but still, it renders pretty well in high definition.  You could tell that art design was not something that was forefront in Soderbergh’s mind, alongside acting, writing and editing, so the images don’t necessarily create a sense of visual style, but what is there is frequently well-detailed, with good natural colors and a cleanness marked only by a touch of muddiness here and there in a few darker scenes.

Audio **

The movie is mostly dialogue oriented, with a few spurts of music, so the DTS HD soundtrack doesn’t offer a lot of dynamic range.  I can’t recall any use of the subwoofer or surround channels at all, so if any was there, it was extremely subtle.  Spoken words are clean and clear, and this offering is just as good as the material requires, no more or less.

Features **

The alternate cut version features commentary with Sasha Grey and Steven Soderbergh, and there is also an HDNET short promotional featurette on the film, along with sneak peeks at other Magnolia titles.

Summary:

Once again, I seem to stand alone against a hurricane force gust of critical praise for Steven Soderbergh’s latest effort, but sometimes, somebody HAS to stand up and point out that the emperor has no clothes.  I find no shame in admitting that if there really is anything worthwhile in The Girlfriend Experience, I was too restless to pick up on it.

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