If an unknowning viewer sat down to watch Steven Soderbergh’s movie “The Girlfriend Experience,” solely on the name of it’s lead actress, (adult film star Sasha Grey,) they might be a little disappointed. If you sit down to watch the movie as a Soderbergh fan, well, you might also be a little let down.
“The Girlfriend Experience,” is set in November 2008, so the background elements from that time show up repeatedly. (Namely, the presidential race between Obama and McCain, and the economic crisis.) Chelsea is an escort in New York City, carrying on afternoon dalliances with men, while trying to have a normal life with boyfriend Chris. Chris is a personal trainer, trying to expand his role at the gym into management, but he’s struggling. Chelsea meets a married man who invites her to spend the weekend with him. She’s torn. She’s also torn about “The Erotic Connoisseur,” the manager of an escort review website, (played by film critic Glenn Kenny,) who is requesting a freebee in exchange for a glowing review on his site.
“The Girlfriend Experience,” is much like Soderbergh’s other, more experimental work, where he is trying to stretch himself in different and interesting ways that he could never do in “Erin Brockovich,” or and of the Ocean’s movies. If you enjoyed, or at least were intrigued by “Bubble,” “Solaris,” and “Full Frontal,” you might enjoy “The Girlfriend Experience.”
While I truly am a Soderbergh fan, (I’ll watch anything the man makes,) and have in the past enjoyed some of his more challenging work, this one didn’t do it for me. One of the main reasons is the performance of Sasha Grey. I’ll start out by admitting that I’m not familiar with her other work, but if one is to consider this as a typical performance, I’d say she’s a lack-luster actor with a poor ability to read lines and sound believable. For the first 40 minutes or so of the movie, this works. Soderbergh shoots everything in the movie very removed, always placing the camera far away from the action, making you feel like a voyeur for trying to see who’s talking about what. However, when the story reaches it’s emotional climax, the camera still stays away, and we’re never let into the actor’s emotions. A good actor could subtly project these emotions from three blocks away- Sasha Grey is not a good actress. Her supporting cast isn’t the most believable either, with much of the dialogue sounding incredibly flat and un-involving. Glenn Kenny is perfectly cast as the sleazy “Erotic Connoisseur,” and he’s entertaining to watch just to see what he’s going to say next. There’s a life and excitement in his scenes that the rest of the film lacks.
“The Girlfriend Experience,” is one of Soderbergh’s least successful movies. While I appreciate his attempt to stretch and challenge himself, this one doesn’t reach the same peaks that he reached in “Bubble.” In fact, to watch a director work the high-wire, go re-watch “Bubble.” “The Girlfriend Experience,” is poorly named too. You don’t really experience it. Instead, it simply washes over you, leaving you hungry for real acting and characters you care about. Skip it. -Sam