The Girl Next Door
By David Mumpower
April 9, 2004

It's just like Happy Days...but with porn!

One of the dirtier male fantasies is the dream of dating a porn star. A staggering percentage of men wish to play out this daydream, exemplified by the mind-boggling popularity of the Las Vegas conventions celebrating the adult film industry and the women who “act” in it. The Girl Next Door takes that basic premise and runs with it.

There is no avoiding a discussion of Risky Business when mentioning The Girl Next Door. I say this because while re-makes might be all the rage at the moment, a new breed of homage is growing in popularity. As The Fast and the Furious’s Paul Walker and Vin Diesel totally stole…err, mimicked the precepts of the Keanu Reeves/Patrick Swayze dynamic in Point Break, The Girl Next Door takes the Tom Cruise star-maker storyline of a teen boy smitten by a sweet-natured woman of ill repute and updates it for the Internet age. Replace the hooker with a porn star, the pimp with a porn producer, and the train ride liaison with a limo hook-up and voila! You’ve got The Girl Next Door.

The movie tells the story of a straitlaced high school student named Matthew Kidman (Emile Hirsch) and his two friends, Eli (Chris Marquette AKA Adam from Joan of Arcadia) and Klitz (Paul Asher, last seen throwing a body under a moving vehicle in Taking Lives). The boys are your usual blend of cast-offs and societal outsiders; they are a trio of ultra-smart nerds who will soon find themselves matriculating at places like Yale and Georgetown. Anyone who has seen Revenge of the Nerds realizes that the jocks and the cheerleaders are dubious about the purpose of such lesser beings. One and all, including the boys themselves, realize that the high school pecking order has clearly established their rightful place as being the A/V club.

Matthew’s life changes one enchanted evening when a breathtaking young woman named Danielle (Elisha Cuthbert) shows up to housesit the place next door. Since the bedroom of said domicile happens to be directly across from the boy's, Matthew is accidentally treated to quite the display when the new neighbor forgets to close her drapes. When Danielle realizes she is the accidental participant in an impressive display of exhibitionism, she journeys next door to have a chat with Matthew and his parents. The boy moves to ward off the potential humiliation of confessing his hormonally induced voyeurism by following Danielle on an evening of adventure. Seeking to offer an equal indignity to the Peeping Tom, she forces the boy to strip in the middle of a public street, then drives off with Matthew’s clothes. In that moment of abject humiliation, the boy falls in love with his tormentor. There’s nothing quite as romantic as teen Stockholm Syndrome.

Over the next few nights, Danielle continues to take Matthew on a wild series of adventures, and she begins to unexpectedly reciprocate the youth’s overwhelming emotions. The idyllic existence is broken up when Eli produces a porno tape which shows a dead ringer for Danielle servicing a couple of karate fighters. Matthew has seen the J. Geils nightmare come to life: his angel is a centerfold.

Things go from bad to worse when Danielle’s psycho ex-boyfriend/porn producer Kelly (Timothy Olyphant) shows up at her door. He is displeased that his nude starlet has chosen suburbia over blue movies, and seeks to bring her back where she belongs (to his mind, anyway). To Kelly’s extreme frustration, he discovers that Matthew proves to have more than a simple schoolboy crush. The two men embark on a series of encounters where they alternate between mentor/protégé and protagonist/antagonist. The relationship between the two friendly (?) adversaries goes a long way in determining The Girl Next Door’s success.

I have long been a fan of Olyphant; I consider his work in Scream to be the special ingredient which makes the movie great. With The Girl Next Door, he takes on a part which is more in the vein of his effort in Go! (yes, he’s typecast), and this is a style of character the actor clearly understands. He doesn’t make an entrance until the movie is half over, cleverly dividing the romantic nature of the first half of the movie from the rest of it. His arrival underscores a change in atmosphere toward the Weitz Brothers-style sexual misadventures which comprise the second half. Olyphant goes a long way in ramping up the raunch factor, but even when he is not on screen, the mood he creates permeates throughout the proceedings.

As for the leads, anyone who has seen Cuthbert on “24” probably has little respect for her as an actress. In her defense, there isn’t much to do when your character is being stalked by a cougar, trapped in a bomb shelter with a duplicitous psychopath and involved in a convenience store robbery in the same eight-hour period. In The Girl Next Door, she reveals a warmth and maturity which belies her age and acting resume to date. I don’t expect the movie to get seen by enough people for it to truly qualify as a breakout role, but she is certainly a revelation as a wounded girl trying to put a regrettable past behind her. For his part, Emile Hirsch demonstrates why he is getting so much hype as the Next Big Thing in Hollywood. The portrayal of a nerdling teenager on a journey of self-discovery to find that which is cool inside him is by no means new ground in cinema, but his mannerisms sell the boy-child as a work-in-progress quite nicely. Even better, when he is faced in a combative situation with Olyphant’s character, Hirsch proves to be more than equal to the task of facing off against a seamy, scary thug while coming across as a better man for it. While I don’t expect the performance to stay there, at this moment, Hirsch is in my top three acting performances of the year to date.

The Girl Next Door is not your ordinary, run-of-the-mill teen comedy. The chemistry between the leads, the charisma of the villain and the awkward but winning nature of the nebbish sidekicks add up to a better than expected offering. I had low expectations going in, but I was impressed to discover a charming movie with heart, wit and humor.