The Girl Next Door (BrianOrndorf)
April 8th, 2004
The premise of “The Girl Next Door” is perfection, and touches upon adolescent male sexual fantasies unlike any other film in recent memory. Director Luke Greenwald does a fine job with the story for about an hour, and masterfully finds new ways to sexualize co-star Elisha Cuthbert to Teutonic-plate shifting extremes in every scene.
But soon the fun ends when the plot begins to unravel, unnecessary subplots are introduced, and the title character is forgotten for long periods of time.
Matthew (Emile Hirsch, “The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys”) is a studious senior in high school, president of his class, and ready for college. Moving in next door to Matthew is Danielle (Cuthbert, “Old School”), a knockout who takes a liking to her new neighbor’s awkward charms and naiveté. When the two begin to start seeing each other romantically, Matthew’s friends reveal the horrifying truth: Danielle is actually a popular porn star who is considering leaving the business. Matthew’s life is turned upside down with this revelation, and he throws his promising future to the wind in an attempt to convince Danielle to quit the business. Unfortunately, a sleazy porn producer named Kelly (Timothy Olyphant, “Scream 2“) has other ideas. He sees Danielle as his property, and uses intimidation and violence to make sure Matthew stays out of her life forever.
Oh, what a setup this film has. It's been a long time since there’s been a more perfect opportunity to capture teen male hormones and horndog sexuality in action than “Girl Next Door.” A film like this would seem like a no-brainer: toss in porn, teens, slapstick, and some occasional sweetness, then kick back and watch the results. But “Girl” is not that simple. This is an overly convoluted, poorly written, soggy piece of filmmaking that only occasionally sees the heights the film should be scaling so easily. The potential is there in spades, but much like the teenage leads in the film when confronted with sex, the filmmakers fumble the possibilities, not appreciating what they‘ve got with this idea.
Greenwald (“The Animal”) is given the keys to the classic sex comedy kingdom with “Girl,” but the filmmaker gets far too caught up in the story to care about the pace. Greenwald excels at constructing a high school world for Matthew that shies away from separating the class into rigid stereotypes. I was also impressed with the way Greenwald convincingly arranged the attraction between Matthew and Danielle, layering on the sweet with an uncommon grace not found in this type of cinema, and giving the audience a peek into why Danielle is so touched by Matthew’s attentions. The comedy comes quickly and the story rolls forward, and for a good 45 minutes, I was thrilled that Greenwald found the right tone for this picture, and wasn’t spending his time on needless and wheezy formula.
My greater fears were realized with the introduction of Kelly, played with conventional malice by Timothy Olyphant, who arrives to take focus away from the title character. Kelly is a creation that screenwriting teachers and studio heads refer to as “the lead‘s emotional growth,” and he exists simply to get Matthew from A to B, not to add any kind of texture to the film. There’s enough tension in Danielle and Matthew’s relationship with school, parents, friends, and the future to fill the picture‘s obscenely stretched out 105 minutes, and the film eventually starts to tumble wildly with asides to even more porn producers (James Remar), a tedious trip to an adult film expo, and ending up with a dreadfully overcooked and unbelievable (even by this film’s standards) climax which ties things up with the largest bow a movie can conceivably have.
What “Girl” needed was concentration and less supporting characters, not pointlessly drawn out subplots that distract from the core idea of the film: a porn star is your neighbor, and she’s into you. Yowza.
As the titular character, Elisha Cuthbert fits the part rather accurately. Besides possessing a beauty that would make men renounce their religion, Cuthbert is sweet and occasionally touching in the role. Greenwald doesn’t quite feel the same way, and he places Cuthbert in the frame only to get her into revealing outfits, not to develop her character. Not much is known about Danielle, which is a shame when, ya know, the film is about her. Cuthbert takes her chance to enter the official “Phoebe Cates Adolescent Male Fantasy Hall of Fame” very seriously, which hasn’t been attempted in years. But “Girl” suffers for keeping Danielle away from a thorough exploration, or at the very least, a personality outside of immaculate hair and makeup. Greenwald had the tools to create something special, if not entirely respectable. But he’s a slave to the awful script (which we reviewed back in 2002 here), and takes the potential of “Girl Next Door” down with his sinking vision for the film.
My rating: C