As the latest personal project of director Steven Soderbergh, The Girlfriend Experience is his low-budget look at the life of a call girl in New York City. Starring in her first feature film is porn star Sasha Grey, who is attempting to make the near-impossible crossover from hardcore adult entertainment to more mainstream fare.
The “hooker with a heart” script seeks to explore the transactional nature of the world’s oldest profession. As a prostitute, Chelsea (Grey) trades emotional investment for investment advice and $2,000 an hour, delivering the “girlfriend experience” for lonely men needing various forms of affection. Her written accounts of the high-class appointments read like nothing more than business rundowns of the encounters punctuated by whether or not the customer scheduled another “date.”
Grey’s slender frame fits in almost every one of the film’s, and though she may be a porn professional, as an actress Grey is flat and amateurish. Those looking to get a glimpse of what Grey does best will limp away disappointed from the complete lack of sex and brief nudity.
Instead the film flaunts Soderbergh’s cinematography as an experience worth your money. His camera placement is deliberate, pushing in close for intimate encounters with Johns and drawing back for an uncomfortable moment with a sleazy Internet critic (hey!) or an argument with her real-life boyfriend, Chris (Chris Santos).
However, like the upscale presence and pretend relationships of its protagonist, the film strives for indie credibility with a non-linear plot and polished digital sheen, but underneath lacks depth or much in the way of emotion. Set against a topical backdrop of the 2008 President election and the ongoing economic crisis, Chelsea feigns interest in politics and finances with her clients. In between sessions she coldly mopes around the city discussing the business end of her one-woman operation or swapping stories with vague characters.
At a brisk 77 minutes, The Girlfriend Experience will leave the average audience unsatisfied while perhaps appealing to the art house fetishes of fancier clientele.
3 out of 5.