"The Girlfriend Experience": Flat acting fails portrait of a call girl

  • By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
  • Thursday, May 21, 2009 2:41pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

When he’s not making the “Ocean’s Eleven” pictures for Hollywood or tackling large-scale art-house projects such as “Che,” Steven Soderbergh dabbles in little experimental movies.

This probably adds to his skills as an artist overall, and sometimes the results (the oddball small-town “Bubble,” for instance) are pretty cool.

The newest little one is “The Girlfriend Experience,” a nonlinear, partly improvised look at the life of a specialized call girl.

The professional in question, Chelsea, provides her clients with something more than a functional roll in the sack. A certain amount of talking, intimacy and regular contact means her clients will receive — you guessed it — the girlfriend experience.

Soderbergh has cast a real-life porno star, Sasha Grey, as Chelsea. This must’ve seemed like an interesting idea, and if the audience is aware of Grey’s day job, it certainly collapses a certain traditional boundary between actor and role.

But Grey herself is an inert presence, and whatever insights she might have into the business of deploying one’s body as a commercial interest does not translate to the screen. In other words, there’s a lot to be said for what real actors bring to a film.

As the movie unfolds, it becomes clear that we are watching different scenes from Chelsea’s life, cut up so they are sometimes out of chronological order. She shares an unorthodox arrangement with Chris (Chris Santos), a personal trainer: They are in a committed relationship and live together, but it’s all right for her to ply her trade during the week.

We see Chelsea interact with a couple of clients (there’s nothing hardcore in the movie, and Soderbergh doesn’t even expose much of Grey’s anatomy), submit to an interview and meet a new man for whom she might be willing to waive her usual fee.

Shot and edited quickly, the movie is recent enough to have incorporated the financial plummet of fall ‘08. As a working girl, Chelsea is incessantly pondering the right course for her financial future.

Soderbergh also includes a scene in which a sexologist of some kind (played by Glenn Kenny, who used to review movies for Premiere magazine) offers to give Chelsea good publicity in exchange for a free preview of her talents. From this sequence and its punch line, I take it Soderbergh has more respect for prostitutes than he does for critics.

“The Girlfriend Experience” is the kind of experimental film that must have been more interesting to make than it is to watch. Soderbergh’s ideas are alive and intriguing, but ideas alone don’t make a film come alive.

“The Girlfriend Experience”

A high-priced call girl (played by porn star Sasha Grey in her first legit role) sorts through her commercial interests in Steven Soderbergh’s nonlinear account. This is the kind of experimental movie that must have been more interesting to make than it is to watch, and Grey is an inert presence.

Rated: R for nudity, language, subject matter

Showing: Seven Gables

Talk to us

More in Life

Shawn McQuiller of Kool & The Gang performs at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, on Sunday, May 8, 2022, in New Orleans. (Photo by Amy Harris/Invision/AP)
Music, theater and more: What’s happening in Snohomish County

Kool & The Gang and Average White Band are coming soon to a casino near you. Queensryche also is due in Arlington.

Preston Brust, left, and Chris Lucas of LOCASH perform during CMA Fest 2022 on Thursday, June 8, 2022, at the Chevy Riverfront Stage in Nashville, Tenn. (Photo by Amy Harris/Invision/AP)
Music, theater and more: What’s happening in Snohomish County

The country music duo Locash drops by the Angel of the Winds Casino on Saturday. And there’s the Summer Meltdown festival at its new home near Snohomish all weekend.

‘Poco Orange’ Red Hot Poker. (Terra Nova Nurseries)
Warmer weather means brighter, hotter colors in the garden

Here are seven plants that will bring a blazing pop of color to your outdoor spaces.

An easy one-mile loop near the visitor center at Seaquest State Park explores the edge of Silver Lake.
(Scott Hewitt/The Columbian)
Discover seven hidden gems not far from the super slab

Weekend trips: Next time you’re making the I-5 slog toward Oregon, check out some of these parks and preserves just off the freeway corridor.

Caption: Now’s a great time to stock up on free Covid tests available to Washington State residents at: https://sayyescovidhometest.org.
COVID-19’s behind her except for a nagging cough

But things might have been much different — in a bad way — without testing and vaccines.

The blended-families challenge requires patience, maturity

Don’t expect miracles — it can be rough going for some time. Get professional help if you need it.

Her Turo rental was repossessed with valuable items inside

When Michelle Marshall’s Turo rental gets repossessed, the car-sharing company offers her a partial refund. But what about her son’s expensive epilepsy medication? Is Turo responsible for that?

Lee Oskar and his dog Tex inside his art studio in his home on Wednesday, March 2, 2022 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Harmonica whiz Lee Oskar is also a pro with a paintbrush

Oskar’s music and art studios are in his Everett home. The former member of the 1970s band War is now 74, and still rocks “Low Rider.”

The 2022 WM Recycle Corps interns are part of WM’s recycling education and outreach team.
WM Recycle Corps interns return after two-year COVID slowdown

The collegiate interns are back in the community to help improve recycling habits and reduce waste.

Caption: At Flight Room in Lynnwood, aerial fitness poses like “vampire” use every muscle in your body.
Fitness takes flight at new aerial studio in Lynnwood

Jennifer Bardsley finds benefits and “silk kisses” from doing aerial yoga at Lynnwood studio.

Photo Caption: This carved shelf brought $2,500 at New Haven Auctions. Decorations and symbols associated with the Odd Fellows add to its appeal.
Odd Fellows iconography adds to this carved shelf’s value

Fun fact: The Odd Fellows is believed to have originated in medieval trade guilds, with “odd fellow” meaning someone who did odd jobs for a living.

The Limelight Prime Panicle Hydrangea. (Proven Winners)
3 new “pee gee” hydrangeas for gardeners to salivate over

These new shrubs boast better flower color and, in some cases, more compact forms that fit better in smaller gardens.