I just watched The Girlfriend Experience and loved it.
If you want to watch it, don't read further, because I may have spoilers. I've been combing over the IMDB and critical reviews and am finding that most people completely missed the point, acting in the same manner that they consider to be the film's downfall.
I'm not a film critic and can't get into the details of cinematography or soundtrack, although all enhanced the film and were critical components. The Girlfriend Experience wasn't about "The Girlfriend Experience," where an escort provides personal services beyond sex to her client. It may be a particular brand of GFE, where the escort provides a blank slate for clients to project themselves onto, but that isn't the common understanding. Instead, the film offers a glimpse into the daily life of one escort in a realistic manner that avoids both the black-and-white moralistic judgments or trendy romanticism that tend to characterize all films dealing with sex work.
Most of the negative reviews criticize Sasha Grey's real-life work in pornography, flat acting or failure to act as a girlfriend to any of the men she engages with, including her boyfriend. I found the acting to be far from flat; instead, it was delicate and nuanced, depicting a 22 year old beauty who is not only in complete control of her life but also unsure of what life actually is. She's good at her job, knows what needs to be done to move forward in her career and is also subject to bad decisions, with regard to both work and also her personal life. She could be anyone.
Ah, yes, but she's not. Because she charges $2,000 an hour to have sex with strangers. The film, however, contextualizes sex work as it should be -- a job, just like any other, with good days, bad days and indifferent days. Leading up to the 2008 Presidential Election, we see each character dealing with apprehension over politics, the economy and sex. And we see those same individuals who are so quick to judge falling prey to the same opportunistic tendencies that they attribute to someone like Chelsea. Because they don't cross that line, selling themselves isn't the same game. But it is.
One of the most striking interactions is between Chelsea and her boyfriend, Chris. She certainly appears to provide GFE to her boyfriend, albeit probably unknowingly, yet Chris is also offering his own brand of BFE. At one point, he lashes out, proving her suspicions that he detests her career and finds her spiritual beliefs silly, without any recognition of the fact that he is a willing participant in their lifestyle, underwritten by her career and guided by her values. This argument shows the unwillingness of either character to truly respect and appreciate the other, highlighting the fact that each has a selfishness that will ultimately compromise the relationship. In Chelsea's case, her selfishness relates to her honesty, with herself and her partner, and her desire for personal growth and fulfillment. In Chris' case, the selfishness seems focused on having a beautiful, successful girlfriend and a beautiful, successful lifestyle in an apartment financed almost wholly by Chelsea's profession. While both may be selfish, only one comes across as shallow and it isn't the hooker.
The lack of explicit sexual interactions between Chelsea and her clients is notable. It allows the film to explore an important part of their interactions, which is rarely the sex and more often the customer service. In only one instance does Chelsea appear to provide the true GFE, in an interaction with a man who she doesn't even have sex with. She tells him what he wants to hear and this is helpful to him. In each instance, she offers something beyond sex that, while perhaps not exemplifying extraordinary GFE, is something that each man is seeking. In some instances, it's enough, in others it isn't, but Chelsea rarely finds herself sacrificing her boundaries in order to go that extra step, although she does come dangerously close at least twice, and not without consequences. Any time a career is so reliant on interactions with other people, an individual will walk that very fine line and encounter some difficult situations as a result.
Many reviewers have focused on the final scene before the credits as being a sad, repulsive and pitiful commentary on Chelsea and her decisions, but I found the contrary to be true. The film isn't a grand and striking commentary on escorts. It simply reaffirms the idea that for Chelsea, this is a job and one she does well. For her clients, it has the potential to be so much more.
I'm not done formulating my thoughts on the film and I consider that a good thing. Highly recommended, especially for those interested in watching with an open mind and a willingness to see everything in shades of gray.