I love the icy-cool precision of Steven Soderbergh’s The Girlfriend Experience. Clinically directed with a purposeful sense of emotional detachment, this is a socially piercing study of sex, rules, expectations, and dominance, with an explicit thematic angle on how our bodies can be used for maximum advantage in almost every situation that we encounter. Written by the fantastic team of Brian Koppelman and David Levien, the film gained a fair bit of notoriety when it was released in 2009 due to the fact that Soderbergh cast former adult film star Sasha Grey in the lead role as a high-priced call girl making the rounds with her quietly rich clients. She’s strong in the film, not because she’s asked to do much in the way of simulated sex or nudity, but because she understood the chilly and sometimes soulless aspects to the narrative, and because Soderbergh was wise to tailor the film to her non-verbal strengths as an actress. She’s got an intense visual presence, and because The Girlfriend Experience is a study of outward appearances and how people react to them, her hardened physical nature helped to define many sequences and worked to create a sense of strength and confidence. Shot digitally by Soderbergh under his usual alias (Peter Andrews) and clocking in at a brisk 80 minutes, the storytelling and filmmaking are as sleek and sexy as the chic production design by Carlos Moore, with everything accentuated by extra-sharp editing by Mary Ann Bernard (another Soderbergh alias), with the ambient, minimalistic musical score by Ross Godfrey hitting all the appropriate notes. Look for film critic Glenn Kenny in a small but extremely humorous role as an escort “reviewer.” Slammed by some as merely an experiment, this is one of the more under the radar Soderbergh efforts, and it’s likely to get some press again soon, as Starz has a TV series that’s based on the film launching in April, with alluring actress Riley Keough in the starring role.


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