The Girl Next Door (2004) / Comedy-Romance
MPAA Rated: R for pervasive gore, violence and language
Running Time: 109 min.
Cast: Emile Hirsch, Elisha Cuthbert, Timothy Olyphant, James Remar, Chris Marquette, Paul Dano, Timothy Bottoms, Donna Bullock
Director: Luke Greenfield
Screenplay: Stuart Blumberg, David Wagner, Brent Goldberg
Review published July 13, 2004
A mix of Risky Business and Something Wild, The Girl Next Door tries valiantly to be something a little deeper than your typical sex comedy, and as competent as Luke Greenfield is as the director, he just didn't have the right screenplay to ever make his ambitions soar. The problem? Unlike Risky Business's Lana or Something Wild's Audrey, the sexy, sultry female protagonist, here a porn star named Danielle, is shamefully underwritten to be little more than a cookie-cutter object of desire with her only saving grace being that she really doesn't want to be the sex object she pretends to be. That would be all well and good, if not for the fact that the screenplay isn't really the stuff of deep drama, penned by David Wagner and Brent Goldberg, whose previous claims to movie fame were the crass misfires, Van Wilder and My Baby's Daddy. Stuart Blumberg was hired on to clean up the broad comedy and make it something worthwhile, but in the end, the film still is a crude sex comedy from the male perspective, polished up to feel like its something more than it is through techniques done by previous filmmakers with something more to say.
Emile Hirsch (The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys, The Emperor's Club) stars as Matthew, on the verge of graduation at the top of his class, with aspirations of being President someday. The one regret in his life is that he hasn't really had any fun, always doing things to further his career goals and scholarly aspirations, while everyone else is out partying or hanging out at the beach. Then one day, he finds that Danielle (Elisha Cuthbert, Old School), the most gorgeous girl he's ever laid eyes on, has moved in next door, and even better, he can see her as she is taking off her clothes from his bedroom window. Of course, she also can see him, so to get back at him, she convinces his parents to let Matthew take her out sight-seeing, whereupon she puts him in all kinds of embarrassing situations for her own personal kicks. Matthew might be shy about it, but it's the most fun he's ever had, and he falls for Danielle, but just when things start to look serious, he finds out she is a porn star. Now, new feelings are in the mix, as Matthew struggles with whether or not he can accept this girl next door as the woman who has sex for money, and even if he were to convince her to leave the industry, her handlers won't want to see their lucrative star go.
Credit Greenfield for almost making this horrible premise fly, as the way in which he shoots his film seems very much in tune with the undercurrent of sober sadness that it seems like he was trying to create. The two lead actors are actually quite good, although it seems unfair that Hirsch is the only actor that has a fleshed out role for him to deliver on. Cuthbert does manage to give her role every bit of the sexiness and vulnerability required, but this is a male story, written and directed by men for men, and sadly, she is never able to really transcend her role as the chick that everyone wants only because she is hot. In the end, it just doesn't work, primarily because at no time do you ever really feel that the two are in love with each other, except for the fact that each uses the other to feel a certain way that they like. Matthew likes being with Danielle, not only because she is gorgeous, but because he is now the envy of all his classmates, who all stumble over each other to be his friend. Meanwhile, Danielle likes Matthew because she has found a guy who actually seems to like her for who she really is, instead of those who use her to make money or who see her as the idealized sex kitten in her videos. Outside of these things, there doesn't seem to be a tangible emotional connection that would lead you to conclude that they have something deeper for each other that would cause them to make life-altering (and in some cases, life threatening) decisions that one would only do if they were really and truly in love. As presented here, there's just no evidence to support it.
On the one hand, perhaps this is too much to read into a teen sex flick, but on the other, Greenfield is inviting us to look deeper into the characters through the way in which he constructs his film, utilizing some very good, moody music mixed with vivid, slow-motion imagery to evoke many feelings, mostly profound. The Girl Next Door might look and feel weighty, but peeling the external layers of superficial thoughtfulness only reveals the script's shallow themes and thin characterizations. Still, this could make for passable titillation if the movie didn't completely falter as it approaches the end, with parents that act as only teens would like them to act, teachers who are easily duped hard-asses, a disingenuous homemade porn flick that would never sell to the general public (and which is also nothing novel -- it's been done before, many times), more bad ecstasy humor, and in one final showcasing of idiocy, one of the worst graduation speeches ever delivered on celluloid, that may have been touching enough for a porn star struggling with the potential of being "saved" by love, but would mean nothing to a room full of strangers, and certainly nothing worth applauding for.
The Girl Next Door is a beguiling piece of work, not substantive enough to be a resonant teen discovery film, yet not really funny enough to be a good sex comedy. Like Danielle, it's all titillation and sexuality on display with the desire to be more, but alas, there's no one here to save it from its own immature indulgences.
©2004 Vince Leo