The Popcorn Reel                                                                  

Adult entertainer Sasha Grey makes her feature film debut in Steven Soderbergh's new film "The Girlfriend Experience".  Miss Grey, 22, plays Christine/Chelsea, a high-priced
Manhattan call girl in the film.  (Photo: Magnolia Pictures)

The Girlfriend Experience
With "Girlfriend", Soderbergh + 20 = Sex, Truth And Vérité
By Omar P.L. Moore/     SHARE
Friday, May 29, 2009

Steven Soderbergh has now made 20 films in 20 years, starting with "sex, lies and videotape" in 1989.  His latest, "The Girlfriend Experience", released last week in San Francisco and numerous other U.S. cities, is a perfect symmetrical bookend for the 20th chapter in his feature filmmaking career, with adult entertainer Sasha Grey front and center in her feature film debut as Chelsea, a Manhattan high-class call girl better known as Christine to her boyfriend Chris (Chris Santos), a gym instructor and business manager.  Set in New York City in the weeks prior to the 2008 U.S. presidential election, "The Girlfriend Experience" spotlights the here-and-now of a brutal economic recession and mini-depression, one that naturally provides a lot of tension and uncertainty for all.  Presented out of chronological order, the film can best be described as a look at male anxiety through female eyes, and in a story where virtually every man is seen panicking about his deteriorating financial stability, so too is almost every man examining the currency of a woman's sexuality.  As written by David Levien and Brian Koppelman, "Girlfriend Experience" contains realistic adult dialogue and situations that are emotionally honest if nothing else.  These elements and some of the stunning cinematography are the most interesting and arresting things about Mr. Soderbergh's film.

Shot in cinema verite style, "Girlfriend" skirts the edges of pretension but works for its intimacy and autobiographical feel.  Miss Grey, the Adult Video Network Porn Entertainer of the Year in 2008, could be speaking about herself as her character Christine recounts things about her personality and experiences as a call girl.  Miss Grey (who was two when the director debuted with "sex, lies") impresses with her completely natural performance and is seen in her nubile full-frontal nakedness for a brief moment, and does things with her hair in this film that are far more sexy and erotic than any of the highly explicit things you can watch her do online.  Christine vividly summarizes her experiences as call girl Chelsea with her male dates in droll, diary-like fashion, detailing the brand names of shoes, lingerie and accessories she wears on her dates.  After all, she's a commodity: a private dancer, a material girl extraordinaire, at 22.  We hardly know what makes Christine/Chelsea tick but we do know that she's lonely and a touch naïve, what with her attendant insecurities.

Meanwhile, Chris -- who at first appears effeminate -- has tolerated Christine's handsome living as a call girl and has a conversation about open relationships on a jet with his work colleagues or male-bonding buddies (it doesn't matter which.)  This repeatedly-visited Greek chorus of men sounding off on the economy and women is a wholly unnecessary part of the film -- these specific scenes are shot in an annoying high contrast handheld digital video -- and is the only misstep that Mr. Soderbergh, donning the familiar alias of Peter Andrews as the film's cinematographer, makes.  There are echoes of the director's film "Full Frontal" in "Girlfriend", with a male journalist (Marc Jacobson) wanting to get close to Christine, and another man (Glenn Kenny), a self-described "erotic connoisseur", who has a blog reviewing the sexual performances of the top call girls in New York City, wanting a taste of the action as well.  Be that as it may, at a time in the world where severe lack of money fucks everyone, Christine/Chelsea at least does the smartest if emptiest thing: fucks everyone for their money. 

(Sometimes she just sits on the couch and listens, or gives a man a sensual hug.)

"The Girlfriend Experience" is rated R by the Motion Picture Association Of America for sexual content, nudity and language.  The film's running time is one hour and 18 minutes.

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