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Blu-ray Review: The Girlfriend Experience (Season One)

THE SEASON  4/5

“I don’t enjoy spending time with people.
I find it to be a waste of time and it makes me anxious.”

Christine Reade (Riley Keough) is a second year student at Chicago-Burnham Law School and a new intern at a prestigious firm. Working hard to establish herself at the firm, her focus quickly shifts when a classmate introduces her to the world of transactional relationships. Known as GFEs, they are women who provide “The Girlfriend Experience” — emotional and sexual relationships at a very high price. Juggling two very different lives, Christine quickly finds herself drawn into the GFE world, attracted to the rush of control and intimacy.

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I’m not sure anyone else could have stepped into the role of Christine Reade like Riley Keough. Even in the 2009 film from which this series derives, much ballyhoo was made that Steven Soderbergh had cast a former adult film star, Sasha Grey, in the lead role. But Keough, a professional actress who has made some bold choices over the years, enters the picture and embraces the role with the same amount of bravery but without the back catalog of adult films to preempt her presence with an expectation for sexual intensity. (She recently rocked the house in Mad Max: Fury Road, by the way.) When she first begins working as an escort, the ease at which she transitions into this very new phase of her life leaves her somewhat staggered, so much that she calls her sister one day and flat-out asks, “Am I a sociopath?” And the viewer isn’t taken aback by this when it happens, because Keough manages to convey during her first few scenes of the series that though she is gorgeous and unflinching when it comes to satisfying her sexual appetites, behind her eyes there’s something missing. There’s a suggestion that she’s not 100% functioning–at least not in the same way that most “normal” people are.

The quote that opens this review, “I don’t enjoy spending time with people. I find it to be a waste of time and it makes me anxious,” is also pretty telling, in that when she is with different people, she’s a different person. When she’s with family, she feels vulnerable and confused, as she’s confronted by the look of a normal, typical life. When she’s at the law firm, she’s like a shark, moving in for the kill whenever necessary to ensure she’s the one left standing when the current crop of ten internships ends, and only two will remain on staff. But when she’s playing “girlfriend” with her clients, it’s an altogether different story. She gives them attention, she listens to them, and she satisfies them–and sexually, she leaves herself more than satisfied. So which Christine is the real one?

girlfriend_experience_blu-ray_5As the series continues, she begins to form “relationships” with a handful of men who are all seeking her companionship for different reason (though they’re all sexually-driven). One man is a widower, another is disillusioned by his own stagnate marriage, while another just seems intensely lonely. To observe their interactions with her is fascinating, as we, the audience, have an omniscient view of her new life as an escort. These men buy her lavish presents, confess their love, and/or beg her never to stop seeing them. They cannot live without her, and she repeats back the things they want to hear, but in the next scene, she’s with another client, repeating back the same things. We see these men systematically come to depend on her, but we also see her traverse one encounter after another without being phased all that much by them. This is when The Girlfriend Experience is at its most intriguing. (It’s also pretty hot.)

THE PICTURE  4/5

girlfriend_experience_blu-ray_3The video presentation is somewhat conflicting, in that the series often takes place in settings of low light: swanky bars, or institutional looking city apartments. The series adheres more to the cool blue tones of David Fincher rather than the warm ambers of Steven Soderbergh, adding an extra dimness to everything. Definition lacks because of this at times, even during close-ups. We could attribute this to four hours being housed on one disc, but I’m not so sure. But lack of definition is the only real concern: the color palette, as intended, is perfectly preserved, and invokes the kind of mood it was supposed to, whether that’s a good thing or not. A 3.5 for this is too low, while a 4 is too high. The fairest score exists somewhere in the middle.

 THE SOUND 4.5/5

girlfriend_experience_blu-ray_6The audio presentation, however, is excellent, presented in a 7.1 TrueHD track. The Girlfriend Experience benefits from its silence, as it’s somewhat of a personification of our lead character’s tendency to prefer emotional isolation. Musical score from Shane Carruth pipes in every so often, more in the form of ambient tone than anything melodic, but otherwise it’s the dialogue which drives the plot forward and which drives this audio track. Much of the series takes place indoors, in intimate settings, so environmental ambience isn’t a huge part of the audioscape. Really, The Girlfriend Experience utilizes the less-is-more approach, but it never sacrifices dynamism and always takes advantage whenever possible.

 THE SUPPLEMENTS 1/5

girlfriend_experience_blu-ray_7The supplements, all told, equal six minutes of content, made up of interviews with cast and crew. Not much content.

The complete list of special features is as follows:

The Girlfriend Experience: An Inside Look
— What is the Girlfriend Experience?
— The Look of The Girlfriend Experience: Voyeurism is Here

TECH SPECS

girlfriend_experience_blu-ray_4STUDIO: Starz/Anchor Bay
DISTRIBUTOR: Starz/Anchor Bay
GENRE: Drama/Thriller
RATING: NR
AIR DATE: April, 2016
VIDEO STREET DATE: August 2, 2016
VIDEO: MPEG-4 AVC; 1080p; 1.85:1
AUDIO: English: Dolby TrueHD 7.1; Spanish: Dolby Digital 2.0
SUBTITLES: English; English SDH; Spanish
RUN TIME: 359 mins
DVD COPY: N/A
DIGITAL DOWNLOAD: N/A
REGION: A

 OVERALL 4/5

girlfriend_experience_blu-ray_covThe film-to-series adaptations continue, and thankfully so far they’ve nearly all been successes either with critics or audiences (or both!) and The Girlfriend Experience is just one more winner in the new migration. An excellent ensemble cast headlined by the magnificent Riley Keough, along with sharp and focused writing by series creators Lodge Kerrigan and Amy Seimetz, have helped usher The Girlfriend Experience not just into prominence as the best Starz Original so far, but also into greatness.

THE DISTRIBUTOR

Anchor Bay Entertainment is one of the leading distributors of independent feature films and home entertainment product and the home entertainment division of Starz Media, LLC. It includes the Anchor Bay Entertainment, Anchor Bay Films and Manga Entertainment brands. Anchor Bay Entertainment distributes on Blu-ray and DVD formats. It is the exclusive distributor in the U.S. of the theatrical titles from Overture Films.


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Written by

J. Tonzelli is a writer, film critiquer, and avid Arnold/Van Damme/Bronson enthusiast who resides in rural South Jersey. He is the author of "The End of Summer: Thirteen Tales of Halloween" and the "Fright Friends Adventure" series, co-authored with Chris Evangelista. He loves abandoned buildings, the supernatural, and films by John Carpenter. You can read some of his short fiction at his website, JTonzelli.com, or objectify him by staring at his tweets: @jtonzelli. He apologizes for all the profanity.

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