Steven Soderbergh looked at the emotional aspects of sex work in his 2009 indie movie The Girlfriend Experience, starring Sasha Grey. However, it only had 77 minutes to explore that theme, so it makes sense that Starz's The Girlfriend Experience TV show is different from the movie. Soderbergh still serves as an executive producer, but the 13 episodes have a new set of writers leading the story in another direction. The original film didn't make a huge impact critically or commercially, so this isn't a case of a television series trying to benefit from the popularity of a movie. Instead, it seems the people behind The Girlfriend Experience were just attracted to telling this story — though that doesn't mean they haven't made some changes.
Soderbergh told Variety, "We didn’t want to just remake the film." That would have been difficult anyway, since The Girlfriend Experience is more experimental with its narrative than most films, opting to leave out a lot of the smaller details, instead allowing viewers to determine how the characters truly feel about each other. And according to the Los Angeles Times, showrunner Lodge Kerrigan said at the Television Critics' Association press tour that the Starz series is "merely inspired" by the movie, rather than directly connected to it. Soderbergh even said, "The idea was to take the title and start over." Here are some of the changes you can expect to see when The Girlfriend Experience premieres on April 10.
Soderbergh also told Variety, "We were intrigued with the idea of going to a new location with a new character on a new trajectory," and that's exactly what the show does. The main character on the series is Christine Reade, who becomes a high-end escort providing "the girlfriend experience." While the film's lead character is known only as "Christine" and is already steeped in this world when the movie begins, the Starz series will show what draws its Christine, a law student, in.
Though The Girlfriend Experience movie was notable for featuring the non-pornographic debut of adult film star Grey as Christine, the TV series did not cast someone with an adult film background. Instead, the show stars Riley Keough, who made her debut in The Runaways and has appeared in many feature films, ranging from Mad Max: Fury Road to Soderbergh's Magic Mike.
A Similar Dramatic Question
The film version of The Girlfriend Experience raises a lot of questions and doesn't offer a lot of answers. However, the central question to the story seems to be: How much are people willing to pay to feel close to someone or something? The film explored this by setting the story against the backdrop of a financial crisis, with people expressing their anxieties over losing their job while paying $2,000 an hour just for someone to care, or pretend to care, about them. The television version of The Girlfriend Experience seems to explore the same topic in a different way, showing what leads Christine Reade to begin providing "the girlfriend experience," as well as what her clients are looking for.
The show seems to be attempting a story that isn't quite like anything else on television. Other series have dove into the world of escorts before, but The Girlfriend Experience seems more interested than most in exploring why people engage in it — whether purchasing or providing sex and emotional attachment. The Girlfriend Experience movie may not have made a very big splash, but by extending that story and shifting its focus, I don't think the same will be true of Starz's new series.
Images: Starz; Giphy