THE GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE is another one of those films that Steven Soderbergh (OCEAN'S ELEVEN, TRAFFIC) makes on a low budget to indulge his auteur-fantasy. The first was a lo-fi, hi-def, amateur-cast drama called BUBBLE. BUBBLE was about brutal jealousy among factory workers. With the deadpan amateur cast and hokey script, I was utterly unimpressed. THE GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE is another beast entirely. For a start, it looks much better - indeed, it's just as glossy as Soderbergh's mainstream films and the static framing works well as a distancing device that matches the emotional distance between the characters. If BUBBLE was about inappropriately extreme emotion, THE GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE is about lack of emotion. Real-life prostitute Sasha Grey plays a high-class hooker who sells not just sex (indeed, we never see it) but fake relationships. All this, while trying to maintain a relationship with her real-life boyfriend. This film could've been amazing. The concept of using a real-life prostitute to play an imaginary prostitute who's playing a girlfriend to the detriment of her real (qua movie) boyfriend, is fascinating. The movie also serves as a small slice of life at the height of the boom - a mirror to that craziness - where people were obsessed with investment returns and status symbols and everything could be bought. But ultimately, THE GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE is a failure. Casting an amateur leads to line-delivery that is painfully flat and fake. The dialogue (from the screenwriters of ROUNDERS and OCEAN'S THIRTEEN) also feels stilted and fake. As a result, at the point in the film when we're supposed to empathise with the hooker as she takes a chance on love with a client, we're so distanced from the action that it's impossible to care.
THE GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE played Sundance 2009 and opened in the US, Canada, France, Brazil and Australia earlier this year. It was released on Region 1 DVD yesterday. It opens in Russia on October 22nd and in the UK on November 27th.