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The Girlfriend Experience


It's the fall of 2008, just before the presidential election, and Chelsea, an upscale call girl, is at a crossroads in both her professional and personal life. Though her business is thriving (she not only provides sexual services but the premium "girlfriend experience" as well), she's looking for more satisfaction. But just as she contemplates expanding her enterprise, a conflict arises with her own real-life boyfriend, an ambitious personal trainer who likes their nice lifestyle but feels he is not getting as much of the ''girlfriend experience'' as he should. An encounter with a new out-of-town client provides a turning point that could affect everything.


Twenty-one-year-old Sasha Grey is a superstar in the adult film world, the star of over 80 porn movies and the recipient of such prestigious industry awards as Best Group Sex Scene, Best New Starlet, Best Three-Way Scene and Female Performer of the Year. As Chelsea, she proves she can actually act — even if her role in The Girlfriend Experience isn't far from her own persona. In a rare instance of porn crossing over into mainstream, she fully embraces the contradictions in this young woman and does it without resorting to any explicit sex scenes. This is a movie where the act is talked about but not really shown. As her real life boyfriend Chris, Chris Santos is essentially playing himself and does so effectively in his film debut. Mark Jacobson is the interviewer to whom she tells her story throughout. In a bit of offbeat casting, film critic Glenn Kenny plays an erotica connoisseur who promises a nice plug for her on his web site if she gives him free services.


Oscar-winning director Steven Soderbergh likes to balance his filmmaking between blockbusters along the lines of the Ocean's franchise and small, experimental movies like this 77-minute look into the life of a contemporary call girl. Although his previous efforts in this vein, Full Frontal and Bubble, have flopped, the director hits the bullseye this time with the help of innovative casting and a well-written script by his long-time collaborators Brian Koppelman and David Levien. It also helps that the exotic world they portray here is endlessly fascinating.


Time constraints keep The Girlfriend Experience from really getting under the skin of the character and much of it feels too episodic to be the masterpiece it might have been. It would be interesting to see Soderbergh take this further with a bigger budget and more complex storyline.


He may be just a film critic, but as an actor, Kenny scores with a dead-on portrayal of a sleazy sex operator looking for a freebie as he offers Chelsea potential new business opportunities in the Middle East: "In Dubai, they say the Russian hookers are best, but I want to convince them to buy American!"


Since this has been on cable and satellite "On Demand" services for a month preceding its theatrical run, rest assured — it's probably preferable to watch at home. rated this film 3 1/2 stars.