The Girl Next Door
Directed by Luke Greenfield. Starring Emile Hirsch, Elisha Cuthbert, Timothy Olyphant, James Remar, Chris Marquette, Paul Dano, Timothy Bottoms. (2004, R, 109 min.)
REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., April 16, 2004
A plucky teen sex comedy that exceeds its navel-gazing marketing campaign, The Girl Next Door is also a fairly accurate reflection of these confused times for America, that legendary prude. Times in which preteen girls wear baby tees with "Porn Star" emblazoned across their nascent breasts and former centerfolds like Anna Nicole Smith and Carmen Electra are now "rehabilitated" by reality television, but male nudity is still the fastest way to send your movie straight to the NC-17 arthouse ghetto. Times, in short, in which America squirms its way between two conflicting approachs – fetishizing sex and moralizing about it. The Girl Next Door enjoys itself too much to squirm, but it can’t shake the teetotaling any more than America can. Emile Hirsch (The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys) stars as Matthew Kidman, a studious, highly repressed high school senior about to realize his lifelong dream – matriculation to Georgetown and another step closer to the White House – but at what cost? Never a risk-taker, Matthew gets a much-needed jolt of adrenaline – and first love – when the impulsive Danielle (Cuthbert) moves in next door, but their romantic idyll is shattered when Matthew discovers that Danielle is a recently retired porn star. Wounded by the discovery, he reacts in typical lunkheaded fashion, inadvertently pushing her back into the industry. For a while, The Girl Next Door redirects all its energy into how to "save" this fallen woman, and it’s during this stretch that the film becomes the most sexually confused – and the most tedious. With the aid of his endearingly dorky best friends Klitz (Dano) and Eli (Marquette), Matthew rushes to an adult-industry convention in Vegas, the ideal setting in which to damn the industry – "I know you, and you’re so much better than this," he mews to Danielle – in between plenty of titty shots of exotically named actresses. Matthew gets her out of there, eventually, and the film finds its footing again with a few ingenious twists in plotting and a resuscitation of its funny bone. With a premise as noxious as The Girl Next Door’s, a film sinks or swims on the strengths of its cast; fortunately, director Luke Greenfield (The Animal) has a warm, likable stable of actors at his employ – especially the three horndog but well-meaning friends whose fierce loyalty to one another proves to be the more moving love story here. Is it a disappointment when, in the end, this good-natured comedy amounts to a reaffirmation of old-fashioned American values like prom-night devirginizing, the importance of the almighty dollar, and a presiding aw-shucks mentality that "boys will be boys"? Sure. But until Hollywood stops being a boys club and America graduates beyond short pants and its embarrassingly pubescent attitudes toward sex, I suppose one can only hope that all male adolescent fantasies will play as goofily sweet as this one.