Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Girlfriend Experience

(Steven Soderberg, US, 2009)

Formally, very cool. Thematically interesting. Not very emotionally engaging, however, which is increasingly becoming the sole criterion that seems to matter to me. So whattaya gonna do?

Speaking to it, then, as a purely formalist exercise (and there are those who would require any discussion of Soderbergh to incorporate that limit, although I don't think I'm one of them), TGE is mostly solid. There are moments when its hyper-aesthetisized compositions approach installation-caliber video art, which can be exciting, but such fancies aren't served by the screenplay, which is mostly obvious, or the non-actors, who are predictably stiff and vacant.

All of which is not to say that TGE doesn't pack a nasty little emtional wallop. Soderbergh's eye has never been less than sharp, and here he uses it to cast a painfully bleak gaze on a fascinating and super-contemporary phenomenon - the sudden anxiety of the elite. It occurred to me that there's almost a dimension of classical tragedy in this - the fall of the mighty and so on, but with a satirical edge. The mighty are displayed as being uniformly unctuous, vain, ignorant, and shallow. They don't deserve a shred of pity, and yet viewing their plight makes us experience anxiety. This is the flash of brilliance that Soderbergh's movie deserves to be complimented. While it doesn't accomplish much in the way of storytelling (and again, it's doubtful that storytelling was his first priority), it does reveal, in the manner of a good short story, something true and uncomfortable: our secret and abiding lust for wealth. As much as we revile those privileged pricks of Wall street, and as much as we felt a certain satisfaction in their fall, we all still harbor a desire for the success that they once embodied: fast, easy, and all-encompassing. Their failure to become immortal exposes a certain failure of our imagination, I suspect; a twinge of shame for ever believing in such a measure of success, even if we kept our belief hidden.

Honestly, I don't know how much there is to say about, y'know, Sasha Grey. She does as well as the rest of the non-actors, maybe even a hair better. Again, believable performance, or three-dimensional characterization, isn't really Soderbergh's bag in TGE. It's a perceptive and crystalline sketch of a film, which isn't such a bad thing, although I think it represents the iceberg-tip of a much more ominous problem.

I don't have the time or energy to really get into it here, but let me just say this: part of the problem of today's glut of disposable films is that so few of them have anything at stake. Soderbergh doesn't help matters by doing this whole moonlighting-as-an-arthouse-filmmaker thing, in which he produces films that don't reach beyond the realm of clever exercise. That is all for now.

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