The Girlfriend Experience (Magnolia Pictures, R)

film_girlfriend.jpgWhile The Girlfriend Experience is a fairly experimental film and should be treated as such, it does have some insights into the life and character of a call girl.







It’s because of movies like The Girlfriend Experience that Steven Soderbergh stays relevant, though it has been a long time since his movies have been as such. As a filmmaker he’s always trying something new. He has a neat career that has allowed him to alternate big-budget Hollywood movies (Ocean’s 11 through 13) with experimental indie movies (like Bubble or Full Frontal). Seems appropriate for the guy whose calling card is the film that singlehandedly made independent movies mainstream: 1989’s sex, lies, and videotape.

Technically, The Girlfriend Experience‘s hook has kind of been done before by the British equivalent of Soderbergh, Michael Winterbottom. GfE stars a real-life porn star, Sasha Grey, as a high-class hooker, where Winterbottom’s 2004 film 9 Songs filmed two normal people having hardcore sex repeatedly; granted, these two plots and methods of filming are drastically different, but the idea of a mainstream, bankable director fiddling with porn flows through both (although I should maybe clarify that The Girlfriend Experience has close to no nudity in it, and certainly no hardcore sex). And anyway, Soderbergh ups the auteur porn ante, as Girlfriend is far more functional as a film than 9 Songs was.

While The Girlfriend Experience is a fairly experimental film and should be treated as such—don’t go into seeing it expecting much in the way of a plot or coherence—it does have some insights into the life and character of a call girl. At one point Grey’s character Chelsea says of her clients, "If they wanted you to be yourself, they wouldn’t be paying you," which sums up the feel of the entire film (or when one of her clients tells her that he should probably see a shrink but decided it would be more fun to see her). Chelsea leads a fairly normal, functional life for a call girl: she has a loving boyfriend who works in a gym, and gets a lot of control over the types of clients she sees since she has built up a good reputation for herself. The film spends some time following the non-hooker exploits of her clients, too, who are by and large concerned with the bad economy, Obama and seeing art films (Man on Wire is name-checked…did I mention that this is very much a film of the moment?).

Grey is pretty but looks very young (she was 20 when the film was shot, and she started her career in porn when she was 18), and while not much is expected of her as an actress here—Chelsea is quite laconic and is not given much of her own personality, as witnessed in the quote above—she does what the film wants her to do, especially in an astounding long take of a fight with her boyfriend over whether it is a good idea for her to spend a weekend away with a client she’s never met. And while The Girlfriend Experience doesn’t have much of a chance of parlaying Grey into a non-pornographic film career, it is nice that she was offered at least a brief reprieve from making films like Cum Fart Cocktails 5. | Pete Timmermann

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