The worst-kept secret at Sundance this week was finally unveiled yesterday evening, when Steven Soderbergh premiered a work-in-progress cut of his latest film, The Girlfriend Experience, a $1.7 million indie shot in sixteen days with a cast of non-professionals, save for the lead: Porn actress Sasha Grey, whom one post-screening questioner helpfully pointed out has been in over 150 adult films. (We would never have known this otherwise, because we never watch porn.) Playing a high-end call girl who does all the little things that provide the titular experience, Ms. Grey turned out to be something of a natural in front of the camera. Also she was kind of hot, which comes in handy when you’re making a structurally dense, partly improvised cinematic treatise about the commodification of American life.
Those expecting a continuation of Sundance 09’s streak of explicit sex would have been severely disappointed, however, since Ms. Grey mostly kept her clothes on. (Mostly.) No, the truly shocking thing about the film was its utilization of people we actually recognized from our regular lives as major characters in its story. (Don’t worry, they too kept their clothes on.) Grey’s character is interviewed throughout by a gray-haired, introspective journalist, played by none other than New York’s own Mark Jacobson, who wrote “The $2,000 an-Hour Woman.” And the film’s funniest moment came when she got hit on by a sleazebag sex connoisseur and critic, played by former Premiere film critic Glenn Kenny. (This also led to some uncomfortable laughter from our row when Soderbergh noted in his Q&A that these people were essentially playing versions of themselves. Sorry, Glenn! The poor guy, usually a Sundance regular, wasn’t even there to defend himself.)