Projections - Movie Reviews

The Girl Next Door: 2004
The Girl Next Door
Starring Elisha Cuthbert, Emile Hirsch, Timothy Olyphant, James Remar,
Paul Franklin Dano, Christopher Marquette

There’s plenty of sex on the brain of Luke Greenfield’s new teen-oriented comedy, The Girl Next Door, not to be confused with the documentary about porn actress Stacey Valentine. The sum of its parts, some of which are engaging, don’t quite generate the lively entertainment often up on the big-screen. As the world of pornography encroaches upon an upper-middle-class Westport senior high senior, played by Emile Hirsch, his initially fearful Matthew Kidman is faced with the dilemma, “Is the juice worth the squeeze?”

That motif relates to the big sacrifice for Matthew, the gorgeous titular girl next door, Elisha Cuthbert’s Danielle who is about his age, but much more wordily, moves in to housesit for her aunt next door. This challenges the boyish Student Council president who eyes a career in politics, with his speech to try and win a college scholarship to Georgetown where he has been accepted. For the student council Matthew has raised $25,000 to relocate mathematical teen wiz Samnang (Ulysses Lee) from the jungles of Cambodia to Westport High. Samnang is kind of a running gag in The Girl Next Door and the financing becomes important to the narrative.

Greenfield, who grew up in Westport, Connecticut, empathizes with Matthew and Danielle, who are both lost in ways that prove alluring to one another. The first half of the movie comes across with more verisimilitude in how he shyly courts her up until a very open first kiss. The moral fiber of Matthew’s personal dream and experiencing the “real world” with someone so beautiful and extroverted has a charm to it for a while then he learns of Danielle’s past in the porn video business where she’s known as the sultry brunette Athena.

The three scripters, headed by Stuart Blumberg, liberally capture life in high school and casually navigate through the adult industry with a lurid stop at a convention in Las Vegas. There are some sharp “daydreams” from Matthew’s point of view, whether when being chased by school security or Danielle showing her professional side in his house. The fantasies that pop up may bother some viewers as a side project occurs close to Westport High’s school prom. Greenfield, who directed Rob Schneider in The Animal, stages many scenes in a brusque, if deft manner, utilizing agility in the designing and lensing that tries to overcome the muted feel imparted on the teen formula.

Behind the able stars of a film that combines some of the attitudes of American Pie with part of the outline of Tom Cruise’s early hit Risky Business, Paul Dano (L.I.E.) and especially an ebullient Chris Marquetts (Freddy vs Jason) are very good in forming a “tripod” with best friend Matthew. Similar to the film’s tone, Timothy Olyphant’s fearsome, unpredictable Kelly, a macho video producer posing as Matthew’s school advisor, provides the central conflict by luring his talented “Dee” back into the sex business. Kelly’s ex-partner, James Remar’s urbane mogul Hugo Posh, inspires Matthew to win his dream girl back, even through an amusing Ecstasy trip.

Throughout what proves to be rather edgy and unexpected, Hirsch (The Emperor’s Club) espouses qualities of a young, talented actor on the rise. While Cuthbert is equally funny and sweet as Danielle, it’s the physicality from being put on a pedestal that obstructs her character. The adults, including the principal and Matthew’s parents, seem to be just on the other side of the energy occurring to Matthew and Danielle. It’s hard not to laugh at moments like one in a limo with Hirsch having the timing and look of a young John Cusack, and a twist on adult sex education but overall the implausibility of the film may leave more than a few feeling that the juice wasn’t worth the squeeze.

The Girl Next Door

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