The Girlfriend Experience (R) **

Sasha Grey in The Girlfriend Experience.

By Cary Darling, McClatchy News Service

The latest film from director Steven Soderbergh has generated headline heat thanks to its central conceit: Star Sasha Grey, who portrays a high-end New York call girl looking to increase her business, is an adult-film actress.

The film, mostly improvised with nonprofessional actors, is set against the backdrop of the 2008 presidential campaign and the financial meltdown while featuring such Big Apple media types as former Premiere magazine film critic Glenn Kenny and New York magazine writer Mark Jacobson. (It’s also Soderbergh’s latest film liaison with Todd Wagner and Mark Cuban’s 2929 Entertainment, with whom he did Bubble.)

But, contrary to what some might expect, The Girlfriend Experience is not a steamy blend of sex and politics. In fact, it’s just the opposite. It’s a deliberately chilly and clinical snapshot of a life (and, by extension, a country) in flux.

Grey is Chelsea, a young woman who would seem to have it all: a lucrative (if illegal) career; a handsome personal-trainer boyfriend, Chris (Chris Santos); a killer loft; and enough expensive clothing to make Anna Wintour blush. But a newer, fresher face may be luring away some of her clients, and her cash.

The Girlfriend Experience revolves more around money than sex with the implication that everything is about the financial transaction. (For all the sex talk, little of it is shown onscreen.)

There are some impressive visual moments — this New York bears a grim beauty — and Grey’s expressionless acting matches the film’s icy exterior, yet The Girlfriend Experience doesn’t go anywhere.

Instead, it’s a series of portraits, intriguingly strung out of order, that doesn’t add up to much, a still life with a soundtrack.

Cast: Sasha Grey, Chris Santos.

Director: Steven Soderbergh.

Screenwriters: David Levien, Brian Koppelman.

Producers: Mark Cuban, Gregory Jacobs, Todd Wagner.

A Magnolia Pictures release. Running time: 78 minutes. Sexual content, nudity, strong language. Playing in Miami-Dade: Intracoastal; in Broward: Gateway.


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