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Heroes of the Zeroes: The Girlfriend Experience

by on April 29, 2010
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Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000-2009.

“The Girlfriend Experience”
Rated R
2009

A street-music soundtrack suits 2009’s “The Girlfriend Experience,” as accessible an avantgarde margin scribble as there’s ever been in Steven Soderbergh’s notebook. That’s because corner saxophonists worldwide have a common goal — a couple of coins in exchange for a moment of musical happiness.

Similarly, personal trainer Chris (Chris Santos) takes an encouraging interest in people’s fitness knowing their failure means cash out of his pocket. His girlfriend, escort Chelsea (Sasha Grey), offers men a highlight reel of emotional and physical closeness without the drudgery of daily commitment.

Such emotional entrepreneurialism abounds, with so many livelihoods dependent on motivating and mollifying others — rigorously scheduled days of surface-level encounters playing to components of self-worth.

But can love really blossom for people whose jobs demand such detachment, and how can that consume not only their feelings, but their identities, too?

Soderbergh’s exploration returns him to disjointed time, which, in his hands, feels like memory’s natural loop — missing frames of fact filled in by preferred outcomes. Chelsea and Chris think they’re happy, but their intimacy is no less commercial than with their clients, not when they turn what should be respect into rigid rules.

Like a P.I. sneaking around corners for snapshots of weakness, Soderbergh places his camera behind everyday barriers. Moreover, he doesn’t spare himself the scrutiny — implicitly challenging the bond audiences would have with directors who breeze through with entertainment.

In half the time, “The Girlfriend Experience” offered as haunting, relentless, incisive and fierce a commentary on human interaction as “Fight Club.”

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