Combustible Celluloid
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With: Sasha Grey, Chris Santos, Peter Zizzo, Timothy J. Cox, Timothy Davis, Jeff Grossman, Ted Jessup, Kimberly Magness, Ken Myers, Bridget Storm, Glenn Kenny
Written by: Brian Koppelman, David Levien
Directed by: Steven Soderbergh
MPAA Rating: R for sexual content, nudity and language
Running Time: 80
Date: 01/20/2009

The Girlfriend Experience (2009)

3 Stars (out of 4)

The Harlot Letters

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

One of the delights of Steven Soderbergh is just watching what he comes up with next. He seems to change gears faster, more often and more radically than any other filmmaker in history. Most recently he has gone from a slick Hollywood sequel (Ocean's Thirteen) to a very unconventional four-hour biopic in Spanish (Che) to this tiny drama featuring a real-life porn star. The Girlfriend Experience harkens back to his fascinating micro-budget Bubble and to his offbeat British crime film The Limey, with its twitchy, time-jumping structure. The new film is set just before the 2008 election, with most of American starting to worry about their finances and the economy in general. Sasha Grey (Babysitters, Pirates II: Stagnetti's Revenge) plays high-class call girl Chelsea, who actually has a live-in boyfriend, Chris (Chris Santos). Over the course of the film, Chelsea meets with several clients and frets when she loses one to a more popular girl. She begins to work on upping her profile and agrees to a sleazy interview with a blogger. A numerology nut, she becomes intrigued when a new client calls and has the right digits in his birthday; he asks her for a weekend away and she agrees. Meanwhile, Chris has been invited to a bachelor's weekend in Vegas, and because of his girlfriend's sudden interest in the new guy, decides to go. That's making it sound simpler than it is, since the scenes appear mostly out of chronological order and the film builds to a different kind of climax than the plot would suggest. All the while, Soderbergh does a remarkable job of blurring sound and images, presenting the film as a whole jumble of feelings rather than a series of events. As for Grey, she's required to play "cold" -- the blogger gives her a bad "review" -- but she does have an undeniable comfort and sensuality that most "straight" actresses might not possess. (Though her face is still very young.) In the end, I'm not sure what role the U.S. economy was supposed to have played in all this, but it's a fascinating film nonetheless. Film critic Glenn Kenny appears as a slimy promoter organizing a "sex junket" to Russia.

DVD Details: Magnolia's DVD comes with an alternate cut (which has about the same running time), a commentary track by Soderbergh and Grey, an an HDNet featurette.

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