Directed by: Steven Soderbergh
Premise: The film follows a high-class escort (Sasha Grey) in New York as she meets with clients and interviews with a writer researching her line of work.
What Works: Steven Soderbergh is a filmmaker whose work can be sorted into two distinct categories: one is star-driven, mainstream entertainment like Oceans 11 and the other is experimental, intimate films like Bubble. The Girlfriend Experience fits into the latter category and among that collection of films, this is the best picture Soderbergh has ever made. The Girlfriend Experience is told in a nonlinear fashion and is skillfully edited and shot. But what really stands out about The Girlfriend Experience is that it avoids all the stereotypical pitfalls that films about prostitution often fall into. It does not portray her as a victim or as a fallen woman nor does the film glamorize her livelihood. Instead, The Girlfriend Experience has a cold and sterile quality about it and Sasha Grey’s detached performance coveys a woman who is bored by her life and who is emotionally vacant. Soderbergh has used the story of an escort set against the current economic crisis to make this film a penetrating examination of capitalism and of the human factors involved in a business transaction. With characters small talking about the bailout of Wall Street, discussing their own domestic and economic hardships, and showing the exchange of trust, services, and money, The Girlfriend Experience implies that the main character’s line of work is not all that different from the way the world of business operates. The suggestions of the film run deep and put a human face on economics while questioning what personal consequences result from a capitalist system.
What Doesn’t: Viewers who demand traditional narrative are likely to be put off by the style of The Girlfriend Experience. The film plays much more like an experimental film of the 1970s like A Woman Under the Influence or Bob & Carol and Ted & Alice. This is not a feel good movie and it requires an investment of time and thought from its viewers. Those qualities ought to be considered to the film’s credit but viewers who are expecting the Steven Soderbergh who made Erin Brockovich will be left cold.
DVD extras: Alternate cut of the film, featurette.
Bottom Line: The Girlfriend Experience is a terrific film that ought to be more widely seen and appreciated. This is a challenging film that is extremely well made and belongs near the top of Steven Soderbergh’s filmography.
Episode: #267 (December 6, 2009)