by Mel Valentin
Borrowing plot elements and character types from "Risky Business" and "Something Wild," "The Girl Next Door" is a sporadically amusing teen sex comedy hampered by a contradictory, ambivalent, not to mention prurient, approach to its female characters, specifically Danielle (Elisha Cuthbert, TV's "24"), and porn, which, if the subtext is read correctly, is best indulged in privately. Porn stars may be perfect fodder for sexual fantasies, but, simply put, problematic in the "real" world, where their sexual promiscuity and exhibitionism is frowned upon. In short, "The Girl Next Door" wants to have it several ways (pun definitely not intended), to laugh at its horndog characters and their unhealthy fixation with porn (and, of course, self-love), forcing us to secret admit our own occasional porn use, and eventually, agree with its pro-monogamy, status quo stance at the end of the film.From start to finish, The Girl Next Door plays out as a decidedly adolescent male fantasy: the newly arrived girl next door is beautiful, sexually adventurous, and, of course, interested in the bland, nebbishy, sexually inexperienced protagonist, Matthew Kidman (Emile Hirsch). Like Melanie Griffith's reckless, self-indulgent character in Something Wild, Danielle is a catalyst for change in Matthew's uninteresting life. As the audience stand-in, we're expected to identify and sympathize with Matthew's problems (i.e., school, college, family life, etc.). Danielle's entry into Matthew's life is meant to shake things up, taking him on a wild (well, not really) ride of personal growth and self-discovery. It's not long before the fairy tale romance takes a different turn, as Danielle's secret is discovered by one of Matthew's best friends and resident horndog/budding porn entrepreneur, Eli (played with the over-the-top enthusiasm by Chris Marquette).
"Compromised by its prurient, ambivalent approach."
Where The Girl Next Door falters, however, is in a major tonal shift in the second act, The Girl Next Door introduces a dark, charismatic villain, Timothy Olyphant as Danielle's former producer and ex-lover, who seems to be modeled on Ray Liotta's career making performance in Something Wild. In both films the introduction of the antagonist alters the tone of the film. The light comedy disappears, and the threat of violence continues to hang over the lead character's fantasy world (despite an obvious attempt to shift The Girl Next Door back into teenage sex comedy with a farcical third-act, complete with an amateur porn production filmed at the same time and location as the senior prom). Something Wild, however, went all out, dispensing with the verbal and physical comedy and replacing it with gritty, urban thriller conventions, forcing the main character into a violent, bloody mano-a-mano with the villain at the end of the film. The Girl Next Door pulls back from that extreme, instead displacing the conflict between the two characters into "possession" of Danielle (since she can't make decisions for herself, apparently), money, and social standing.
Attempting to give the tired teen sex comedy sub-genre a tpoical makeover, director Luke Greenfield and his phalanx of writers wanted to take advantage of the mainstreaming/saturation of porn and porn stars. With video, DVD, cable, and pay-per-view, porn is nothing if not ubiquitous in American culture, much to the displeasure of those on the right wing of the political spectrum. The Girl Next Door seems to present a contradictory position: it's acceptable to enjoy porn, but those who participate in front of the cameras are subject to, at best, curiosity, and at worst, scorn or contempt. Ultimately, The Girl Next Door takes a questionably moralistic turn, with Danielle, an ex-porn star, "saved" by Matthew's from her ill-chosen profession (he offers her a better [read: monogamous] lifestyle).Why give "The Girl Next Door" a marginally positive rating then? Elisha Cuthbert is, without a doubt, an attractive, easy-on-the-eyes starlet, and director Luke Greenfield makes sure to linger on her face and, of course, her scantily clad body. The screenplay, such as it is, doesn't allow Cuthbert to do much, performance wise. Add in liberal doses of crude humor (some truly inspired, to be fair), plus second- and third-act plot complications right out of Robert McKee's screenwriting tome, and the end result is a muddled, flawed, but occasionally, enjoyable flick. Perhaps Elisha Cuthbert’s next role will be more challenging will play the lead, and not just the (fantasy) love interest.
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originally posted: 09/05/05 08:14:50