Essays · Movies

Sundance Report: Steven Soderbergh’s ‘The Girlfriend Experience’

It was advertised as “An Evening with Steven Soderbergh,” but we knew the score. He was there to show us a work in progress cut of his latest film The Girlfriend Experience. And so he did…
By  · Published on January 21st, 2009

In one of the worst kept surprises of this year’s Sundance Film Festival, director Steven Soderbergh took the stage at the Eccles Center in Park City tonight for a special event. It was advertised as “An Evening with Steven Soderbergh,” but we knew the score. He was there to show us a work in progress cut of his latest film The Girlfriend Experience. The film has already received a ton of buzz online thanks to the casting of famous porn star Sasha Grey in the lead role. Grey plays a high class call girl whose unique perspective on the world of prostitution as well as the current economic crisis are the focus of the film. Soderbergh also has folks talking about this project in relation to his previous work on Bubble. Like Bubble, much of the film’s dialog is improvised and its entire cast, save for Grey in this case, has absolutely no experience on camera. It is an ambitious project, to say the least. But if I remember correctly, Bubble didn’t work out so well.

And while it nearly impossible for me to write a full review of The Girlfriend Experience, as we were shown a very rough cut of the film, I will say that even in its current state it is leaps and bounds better than Bubble. This time around Soderbergh has captured some truly stunning visuals and has delivered a non-linear narrative that is both engaging and not overly complicated. Sasha Grey’s performance is also a surprise. She does her best to bust up the stigma of being a porn star in a “real movie” by delivering in the film’s most emotional moment. As for the rest of the film, it would appear that Grey is more expertly cast than in possession of some great acting talent. She gives her character a steely outer shell, then allows the shell to break away as more about her personal life is revealed.

As I mentioned above, we can’t count this as an official review of The Girlfriend Experience, which should hit theaters in its finished form sometime later this year. What I will say is that I really enjoyed what I saw. It was sexy, compelling and visually interesting. More importantly, Steven Soderbergh continues to make strides in the right direction with this very experimental method of filmmaking. It has me excited to see where he’s going to go with it next.

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Neil Miller is the persistently-bearded Publisher of Film School Rejects, Nonfics, and One Perfect Shot. He's also the Executive Producer of the upcoming One Perfect Shot TV show (HBO Max, 2021) and the co-host of The Storm: A LOST Rewatch podcast. He can be found on Twitter here: @rejects (He/Him)