"Chelsea is played by Sasha Grey. She is 21. Since 2006, according to IMDb, she's made 161 porn films...I haven't seen any of them, but now I would like to see one, watching very carefully, to see if she suggests more than one level." --Roger Ebert
It's funny to think of Ebert tracking down a little Sasha porn after watching Steven Soderbergh's The Girlfriend Experience. I hope he enjoys it! Unlike Roger, I may have (accidentally, of course!) seen a few clips of her prior work on-line. I'm not sure about "more than one level," but she has a certain look (jet black hair, pale skin, detached but not completely disinterested) that serves Soderbergh well. I wonder: did he wade through a lot of porn to find his muse or was it just her reputation? There's a pretty fascinating recent Rolling Stone profile of Grey in which she discusses her complete un-victimization; enjoyment of the work--she has real orgasms!; and her interest in existential philosophy (yes, really).
In the film Grey plays a (presumably) high-priced escort named Chelsea whose clients are largely involved in the financial market. The setting is during the recent presidential election, just before the economy completely went down the shitter. The idea seems to be that human connection, for these men, is just another aspect of business: Chelsea provides, for a night, the illusion of connection ("the girlfriend experience"). She tries to keep a distance from that line of thought in her own life, with a personal trainer boyfriend and a penchant for astrology that, perhaps, allows her to see the idea of love as something beyond human control and manipulation). Soderbergh shoots most of the film in long-shots and skips the sex altogether (it's all about alienation, see!), but it's a debatable strategy. Surely the sex is an important part of "the girlfriend experience," and when Chelsea brags about her prowess, late in the film, there's no real impact to the line (from what we've been allowed to witness, she seems pretty dull). The film works best during her conversations with a sex-blog journalist during which she narrates her various encounters, always discussing her clothes first, what they had for dinner, then the sex, all in a monotone. If she ever had any real affection for her line of work, it seems to have vanished, and the final shot is nicely done, revealing the one-way nature of the escort/client relationship where she may provide a necessary emotional outlet for the man while getting nothing in return. But ultimately there's not much here that Soderbergh didn't do better in his first film, sex, lies, and videotape (remember Spader beating off to videos of women talking about sex, unable to connect to the same women when they are right in front of him?). Still, I sort of like these quickly-shot Soderbergh projects that he enjoys doing while he fills time between...whatever nuttiness he's working on next (a 3-D Cleopatra musical?...why not!...surely it will be more exciting than that four hour Che Guevara film!).