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June 15, 2009 - Image 10

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Publication:
Michigan Daily Summer Weekly, 2009-06-15

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1 O " S 'fi'9t Monday, June 15, 2009
The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com
'Girlfriend' turns more than tricks

. By ANDREW LAPIN
Daily Film Editor
There is a scene in the obnoxiously cute-
sy 2005 romantic comedy "Hitch" where
Will Smith's wholesome
"love doctor" character
is approached by a sleazy
client who wants help get- The
ting laid. Smith is offended
by what he sees as a gross Girlfriend
misinterpretation of his Experence
job: He helps establish-
relationships with lasting At the State
connections, he argues, 2929
not meaningless sexual
affairs. In the world of
film, as in the real world of public con-
sciousness, there is a very distinct ethical
and emotional line between these two types
of male-female interactions.
"The Girlfriend Experience" exploits -
and at times silently mocks - this entire
idea. Here is a film that views prostitution
simply as a business, a means to an eco-
nomic end that can exist side-by-side with
an actual, committed relationship. The
main character, Chelsea (real-life porn star
Sasha Grey, whose IMDB credits include
films like "Sasha Grey's Anatomy"), is a suc-
cessful New York escort. Though Chelsea
never explicitly states how she bills herself
to her clients, it's implied that her appeal
to them lies in something more than sex:

They pay her for providing companionship
and inspiring confidence. One takes her to a
movie, then awkwardly tries to discuss the
film with her afterward. Others just want to
talk about their failing jobs and/or failing
marriages.
So Chelsea's allure must be that she gives
lonely men "the girlfriend experience" for
a price. The fascination of the film is that
her character is also a full-time girlfriend:
She's in a long-term relationship with Chris
(relative newcomer Chris Santos), an ath-
letic trainer. Chris is somehow OK with her
line of work, but when Chelsea decides to go
on a weekend getaway with a married man
she's just met, Chris draws his line between
cheating and business-as-usual.
Why is this? Perhaps it's because she's
going with the intention of looking for
something greater than a hooker-client
relationship. After all, intention becomes
everything when all the other elements of
a relationship can be bought and sold. Per-
haps the emotionally detached Chelsea has
lost the ability to connect with people on a
meaningful level, and perhaps Chris and all
her clients have, too, because they believed
in the healing power of artificial connec-
tions.
This all sounds like yet another tale about
a hooker's inner turmoil. But director Ste-
ven Soderbergh ("Che"), using the barely-
there filmmaking style he last showcased in
"Bubble," is interested in something deeper.

"Man, it's really acid out today."
His cast is made up of non-actors, and his
unmoving camera captures their discom-
fort and vulnerability as they stumble over
each other's (mostly improvised) lines.
Soderbergh also overlaps conversations
about the country's eco-

heichinanaiu P R E S E N T S

|i

nomic downturn with
Chelsea's very busi-
nesslike descriptions of
her clientele, and inter-
cuts arguments about
the 2008 presidential
election with Chelsea's
philosophies about
"personology," a pseu-
do-science that she uses
to predict what a client
will be like before she
meets him.
HOURS
Mon-Fri 9:00-5:00p
Sat 8:30-3:00nm

Yet Soderbergh's intentions tend to vary
from muddled to downright nihilistic. He
may be using the parable of Chelsea and
Chris to purge meaning from all relation-
ships, as he never gives the couple an oppor-
Real-life porn star
goes mainstream.
tunity to be happy in their situation. But
though a grander statement seems to be at
work here, Soderbergh must realize that
the film's hard-to-swallow central conceit
(a lasting relationship built around a girl
who has sex for money) prevents
it from working on its own terms
3ERS as a realistic story. Once this
becomes apparent, all the cinema
verit6 tricks in the world won't
help.
}m But even if "The Girlfriend
Experience" never connects
with its audience on the level
that Soderbergh is hoping for,
it remains a fascinating speci-
men. Even in the very last scene,
the film is challenging the way
we define what constitutes a
relationship and it presents the
audience with different forms
of male-female connection that
transcend (or take the place of)
sex. Hitch might rethink his own
t.CQM philosophy if he was ever to meet
)ME! Chelsea.

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