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The Girlfriend Experience

The Girlfriend Experience

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 3 out of 5

STEVEN Soderbergh remains one of the most thought-provoking and interesting filmmakers of his generation.

Just a couple of weeks after releasing corporate whistle-blowing comedy-drama The Informant! in cinemas, he’s now delivered the distinctly more indie The Girlfriend Experience. And this in the same [UK] year that he delivered Che Parts one and two.

But while The Girlfriend Experience is arguably the lesser of all of those movies, it remains a fascinating experience for several reasons.

First and foremost, Soderbergh’s choice of leading lady – porn star Sasha Grey – proves herself to be an actress of strong potential, while the story is never less than intriguing. The director’s trademark visual flair is also in abundance, even though there are moments that veer towards the overly arty and pretentious.

The story focuses on a few days in the life of high price escort Chelsea (Grey) as she perfects the art of offering the ultimate girlfriend experience. For the right price, Chelsea will allow wealthy clients to pay to listen to them talk about the economy and their families as much as for sex and companionshiop. It’s a package deal.

Meanwhile, she’s having to contend with unexpected feelings for a new caller, which places her current relationship with her live-in boyfriend under scrutiny, as well as the grubby attention of a web critic who is keen to bag a free sample of what she has to offer in return for a positive review. Not everything works out as planned…

Soderbergh’s film is a deliberately fly-on-the-wall experience that keeps a lot of distance between the viewer and his characters. As such, it’s quite a cold experience that’s hard to connect with emotionally.

But it’s not without fascination… both as an intriguing insight into the escort business as well as the men who frequent it no matter what their personal situation. It’s sleazy by virtue of the closeted intentions, but it’s never voyeuristic and although Soderbergh has a major porn star in the lead, nudity is kept to a bare minimum.

Rather, Grey gets to display her acting chops and is a fascinating central presence… much more so than her live-in boyfriend, whose trip to Vegas and subsequent discussions on the economy and the pre-Obama US political landscape are much less interesting to UK viewers.

Another negative, meanwhile, comes in the form of the direction itself, which adopts a non-linear approach that feels unnecessary, as well as one too many obscure, blur shots so as to accentuate the artiness. It’s Soderbergh indulging himself at the expense of the audience.

That said, he does know how to shoot Grey… who is often breathtakingly beautiful and often lit in the same kind of way that made George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez such a smouldering couple in the director’s Out of Sight.

A curiosity piece more than essential viewing, The Girlfriend Experience remains worthy of your attention.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 78mins
UK DVD & Blu-ray Release: April 26, 2010