Steven Soderbergh’s The Girlfriend Experience doesn’t work as a poignant commentary about contradictions in consumerism, nor is it a particularly engaging character study about a call girl (Sasha Grey) adrift in turmoil. In fact, none of the main characters or themes are very interesting (Glenn Kenny’s uber-freak critic aside), and they exist in shades rather than full complex entities. The film is unforgivably dull at times, watching characters sidestep emotions and motivations in favor of manipulative rhetoric (Wall Street anyone), riding for long stretches on Soderbergh’s blatant halos of grey/blue hues and metallic infrastructure sheen.
But there is a saving grace. Soderbergh makes up for the overall mundanity with some brilliant non-linear editing, fragmenting the story by overlapping images, colors, and shadows in challenging ways. Scale and lighting mold the cuts, and the temporal gaps continuously confound the surface level narrative. Unlike the atrocious Bubble, Soderbergh’s other recent foray into focused HD filmmaking, The Girlfriend Experience creates a shifting cinematic world with potential for subtextual returns. Yet Soderbergh’s vision turns up little, a fickle cynic that is many things – incredibly hollow, savagely impersonal, and altogether silly (Hollywood anyone). Grey breaks the film’s back with some atrocious acting, leaving only the ambitious disjointed montage in her wake. And maybe not ironically, we are left with anything but an experience.