Women of Sundance: A Porn Star and a Jew

I’m sick of hearing the gripe, “There are no good roles for women in Hollywood!” Even though it happens to be true. So just imagine the unadulterated thrill coursing through my veins upon hearing that two saucy femmes and their subversive self-expression were getting buzz at Sundance.

One of those gals is Stella Schnabel, daughter of artist/filmmaker Julian Schnabel and star of “You Won’t Miss Me,” about an aspiring actress who finds herself the inpatient of a psych ward.

Karina Longworth writes on SpoutBlog:

By immersing us in the world of 23 year-old aspiring actress/recent mental patient Shelly Brown, and burying the point of view so deep within the character that Shelly’s social imbalance sometimes feels contagious, writer/director Russo-Young and co-writer/star Stella Schnabel remind us how rare it is to see a film about the inner life of a beautiful, troubled young lady without the objectifying filter of the male gaze, without the beauty and the trouble fusing into a fantasy cipher of a postmodern damsel in distress.

Also subverting the gaze is porn star Sasha Grey, with some 150 adult films under her belt, making her work-in-progress debut as the lead character of Steven Soderbergh’s latest innovation, “The Girlfriend Experience.” In it, Grey plays a $10,000-a-night call girl, who treats sex work as a lucrative business practice. When she’s not enjoying the fruits of her labor, or fighting with her live-in boyfriend, she skillfully runs her own website. The film sounds eerily reminiscent of the dysfunctional relationship lore that made “Sex, Lies and Videotape” an indie sensation twenty years ago(!). Only this time, sexed-up, fetishizing James Spader is replaced by real-life, female porn star.

The L.A. Times writes:

Soderbergh seems interested in exploring, as one character puts it, the “transactional,” the exchange that occurs between people at all levels of interaction—in business, in love, in everyday life. Everybody wants something.

One question from the audience was about Soderbergh’s decision to cast an actress who has starred in more than 150 porn films as the lead in his movie. “Even though the film’s not very explicit,” Soderbergh said of Sasha Grey, “there’s a comfort level she obviously has from making all of those films that I think is difficult to fake. There’s a kind of attitude.”

Apart from Grey, no one onscreen has appeared in a film before. Soderbergh said he cast them for their proximity to the characters he wanted. He explained that a journalist character in the film—“intrusive,” is what Grey says of him—is played by Mark Jacobson, who wrote an expose of an escort ring for New York magazine.

“It’s really fun as a director to watch,” Soderbergh said of working with non-actors. “I really like the idea of people speaking in their own words, really speaking for themselves. Everybody in there, that’s them. It’s kind of fun to watch. I mean, when you’re making it.”

As long as roles like these continue to get play at Sundance, we can rest assured that the nation’s seminal indie film fest still has its edge.