Judge Adam Arseneau is the Boy Hiding In Your Backyard.
Matt never saw her coming…but all his friends had!
A teen comedy with occasional affects of heart and sincerity, The Girl Next Door eschews the cheap sex gags of its comedic brethren in favor of a sweet (albeit improbable) love story that descends into a nightmarishly schizophrenic examination into the adult film industry. How adorable.
Facts of the Case
Matthew Kidman (Emile Hirsch) is a well-to-do highschool senior trying to bring a foreign exchange student to study at his school because of his excellent aptitude. He gets good grades, got accepted next year for Georgetown, edits his yearbook, and is total women repellant—none of the girls even pay him mind.
Trouble brews when a hot new girl moves in next door, Danielle (Elisha Cuthbert), who catches Matthew spying on her undressing through the window. Finding him to be nebbish but adorable, she flirts and flaunts herself around him. Horror strikes poor Matthew when his overzealous perverted friends find a videotape of Danielle "working." Surprise surprise—she's a porn star!
Soon, Matthew is tangled in a complex world of adult film entertainment and low moral fiber. He likes Danielle and wants to rescue her from her overzealous and insane "producer," Kelly (Timothy Olyphant), but will she give up the good life of being a porn queen?
Ever seen Risky Business? The Girl Next Door is a modernized walking homage, a conceptual and emotional pillaging of the premise replacing call girls with pornography. With only the merest of suggestions of teenage filth and skin, the film is surprisingly clean given its sordid subject. Matthew is constantly trying to prove he doesn't objectify his dream girl porn star, and something akin to genuine tenderness emerges at times. Unfortunately, what also emerge are creepy and exploitative overtones of social criticism, a weird ethical shifting that robs the film of any satisfaction or comedic effect. We simply never know if we're supposed to be amused, aroused or feel shameful.
Take the "heroine," for example. Danielle is a sweet as apple pie American girl-next-door fantasy object, except that she's a raunchy exploited borderline abused porn star with a full-fledged pimp. Only in a teen comedy could anyone even conceive to play this as a straight premise. She loves the job because of the money and attention and empowerment, but hates it for the same reasons. She quits the porn business, then goes back to the porn business, then has an eighteen year-old try to rescue her from it again. Matthew tries to 'fix' and 'reform' her, in an attempt to be some magical combination of moral superiority, love and maturity that never really makes any sense, because he's eighteen, and this should be totally awesome to him. Certainly all of his friends think so! Danielle, meanwhile, shoves off the attention of her abusive and manipulative pimp in favor of the eighteen year-old kid who wants to rob her of her empowerment and femininity in favor of old-fashioned Archie comics-style romance, splitting malts at the local soda fountain…wait, what exactly was the optimal outcome here? I'm confused.
Most of the film is spent assuring audiences that sweet romantic teenage love, in all its awkwardness is good and important, right before reversing the opinion and embracing the raunchy, tawdry and exploitative elements of teenage romantic comedies. The Girl Next Door is all about sexual innuendo and teasing, only to slap the wrists of audiences for having our minds in the gutters. Are we supposed to feel bad for Danielle and her unfortunate lot in life, having made such bad moral choices and falling into the cesspool of adult entertainment? If so, how do we rationalize the sequences in which she admits fully to loving the money and attention, showing off her body and teasing everyone around her? Young Matthew has noble intentions (kind of, sort of) by trying to help her escape her lifestyle, but doing so turns this film into a toxic hellish wasteland of feminine theory from which educated minds will find no escape. Consider the hormonal teenage boy (the target audience of all exploitation and objectification of women) coming to the rescue of the poor helpless women (with the come-hither eyes, red lipstick and outrageously low-cut shirts) to rescue her from the big old nasty porn industry from which she was unwillingly enslaved to (except that she volunteered and seems to enjoy it at least half of the time). Yikes.
It is clear that the creators of The Girl Next Door wanted to make profound and important statements on morality, on pornography and women empowerment, but mucked it up to the point of being indecipherable. This is a chaste teenage comedy coupled with a sex-romp, locked into an empty room, and neither gets to come out until the other is dead. And while the two sides fight, audiences suffer. Honestly, we would have a much more satisfying film had the filmmakers concentrated on the laughs and the sexual innuendo, and skipped any and all suggestions of social commentary. Now that's the "unrated" version I want to see.
Speaking of unrated versions, forget it—this version doesn't add anything saucy or naughty. It's just an alternate cut that never was submitted for rating, so its "unrated." See what they did there? This movie is the ultimate tease, promising (by its very premise) sex and debauchery and naked Elisha Cuthbert. It not only fails to deliver on its marketing hook, but attempts to hoist a nonsensical romantic and moral argument upon it, alienating the very audiences that would flock in droves to this kind of teenage comedy. How this movie found an audience, I have no idea. The Girl Next Door is the ouroboros of teenage romantic comedies.
But enough of the introspection, you might be saying—you, our gentle reader, wondering why anyone would put so much effort into dismantling the moral fiber of a simple teenage sex comedy. Very well! The point is well taken. Alas, there isn't much in the way of actual comedy going on here in The Girl Next Door worth mentioning, unless the idea of Danielle stealing all of Matthew's clothes and leaving him to run about naked makes you giggle. As comedies go, this is pretty stiff. It's sweet, and if you buy into the romance, you'll find an acceptable romantic comedy buried amongst the peculiarities and moral ambiguities. Hirsh is a competent young actor, who cleans up quite nice from his normal casting of long-haired hippie-types, and Cuthbert is…well, she's nice to look at. Does that count as acting? It must, because otherwise Megan Fox would be unemployed right now.
Where the film turns is the introduction of Danielle's clearly insane porno producer (played by Timothy Olyphant). Once he arrives, the film actually improves noticeably. We drop the confusing, anxiety-ridden ethics class and moral cesspool of logic and settle into a happy comedy about sex, drugs and being framed by irrational villains with transparent motivations. Hardly haute cinema, but it beats trying to unravel the intentions of the first half of the film. At least the film ends with some semblance of enjoyment and entertainment for audiences. One even can believe that that there was a good teenage comedy film to be had here, before it become lost in its own maze garden of faux social satire.
From a technical perspective, this is a dishearteningly average Blu-Ray presentation, exhibiting a muted, flat and one-dimensional transfer that lacks depth and definition. The film is from 2004, but has the appearance of a film at least ten years older. Black levels are washy, a bit on the gray side, but certain sequences exhibit nice contrast. The detail is acceptable, clean and clear with no noticeable damage. Colors are washed-out, and grain is ever-present in night sequences. It beats a well-upscaled standard definition picture in terms of detail and fidelity, but not by as much as one would hope.
Audio fares noticeably better with a DTS-HD Master Audio track that excels pumping out the soundtrack (rock and hip-hop) with aggressive LFE response. Dialogue is clear and environmental details are well-placed, although the rear channels are underutilized. There isn't much audio excitement in this film to be had, but the track does its job well enough. Spanish and French Dolby 5.1 tracks are also included for those linguistically inclined.
Extras are identical to the standard definition DVD release. We get a commentary track with director Luke Greenfield, scene-specific commentary with Emile Hirsch, Elisha Cuthbert, two short features, "The Eli Experience," "A Look Next Door," a gag reel and deleted and extended scenes.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
So let me see if I understand the situation: a movie about a next door neighbor/porn star, staring the exceptionally attractive Elisha Cuthbert, who prances and minces about a hapless and hormonal eighteen year-old…and never actually takes off her clothes in the movie? Are you kidding me? What kind of horrible and cruel joke is this?
I haven't seen false advertising this flagrant since I went to "Stoner's Pot Palace" and found naught but kitchen supplies and stainless steel cookery.
The Girl Next Door attempts sincerity and sweetness, but is too confused by its own premise, making a complete conceptual mess of its own examinations into teenage sexuality, feminine empowerment and the pornography industry. Once you get past the ogling factor of seeing Cuthbert in skimpy attire parading about, there's little substance to be had here. In fact, the actual undertones of the film are kind of unsettling.
With a mediocre at best Blu-Ray presentation, caveat emptor on this one.
The film is found guilty, for exhibiting serious false advertisement. Getting
to see Elisha naked would have gone a long way in improving this Judge's
verdict, if you know what I mean. Nudge nudge.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
Review content copyright © 2009 Adam Arseneau; Site design and review layout copyright © 2014 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.