The Girlfriend Experience | Movie review
After making a film about Che Guevara that shirked all conventions of the standard movie biopic, Soderbergh has now headlined a movie with a porn actress but included virtually no sex. How does he get away with it? In a cautionary tale for the Spitzer era, Soderbergh sees the greatest luxury as the ability to purchase intimacy. Sure, high-class hooker Chelsea (Grey) is adept at acting out her clients’ desires, but Soderbergh wants to know who she really is. If you’re a prostitute—or for that matter, a porn actress—can you afford to have emotions? Chelsea has a boyfriend (Santos) who cares about her, but as her world unravels, it becomes clear that even he’s a commodity that can be traded.
Shot and set in October 2008, The Girlfriend Experience uses the financial collapse as a counterpoint to the destruction of Chelsea’s own business. As with Bubble (2005), Soderbergh relied heavily on improvisation and cast nonprofessionals in roles not far removed from their lives. (Yes, that’s film critic Kenny—a friend of mine and probably most people reviewing this film—as a scuzzy porn reviewer.) There’s much more going on here than in Bubble, though, and the documentary elements play out to more inventive effect. The greatest revelation is Grey, who appears to be most vulnerable with her clothes on.