The Girl Next Door

Robin Clifford of Reeling Reviews Robin Clifford 
The Girl Next Door
Laura Clifford of Reeling Reviews Laura Clifford 
Matthew Kidman (Emile Hirsch) is a brainy high school senior and the president of the student council but not such a popular kid at Westport High. He is a front-runner for a full scholarship to Georgetown University but this is put into jeopardy when he spots a beautiful young woman moving into his neighbor’s house. Unknown to Matt, this lovely object of his attention has a checkered past and he risks his future when he goes out with “The Girl Next Door.”

Inevitably, this new millennium teen comedy from director Luke Greenfield (“Old School,” “The Animal”) is bound to be compared to that quintessential coming of age film, “Risky Business.” Sure, it has the same roots as the movie that launched Tom Cruise into intergalactic stardom and radiates a similar sexiness. But, this latest teen flick is not a remake of the 1983 classic. It is, instead, a retelling of the story of a young man who risks his assured future for the love and affection of a woman with a not-so-innocent past.

Emile Hirsch is no Tom Cruise but the young actor has a likable demeanor that allows him to anchor his Matthew character amidst the strong supporting cast and clever, inventive story. Matthew, though smart and resourceful, comes from a family with limited funds so anything short of a full scholarship to pay for his higher education is not an option. As he is preparing his speech for the scholarship committee he spies Danielle (Elisha Cuthbert) taking up residence next door. He is mesmerized as he watches her undress through her open window - until he sees her watching back. Suddenly, the lights go out and she is heading for his front door. Matthew is in a panic that she’ll tell his folks of his voyeurism. Instead, she invites him out for a ride. He happily complies until she turns the tables, makes him strip down to his birthday suit, takes his clothes and leaves him, bewildered, in the middle of the street.

Once Danielle evens out the playing field a budding romance begins to develop between Matt and pretty new neighbor. And, as a plus, Matthew’s best friends, Eli and Klitz (Chris Marquette and Paul Dano), both major geeks, get to live vicariously through their super fortunate friend. That is until Eli, a huge fan of porno films, brings something wild to Matt’s attention – beloved Danielle starring in one of his favorite skin flicks. Suddenly, Matthew’s world is turned upside down when he confronts Danielle and learns that, yes, she was a porn star and, no, she is not in the business anymore. Meanwhile, Matt is also leading a fundraiser to bring a super intelligent Cambodian exchange student, Samnang (Ulysses Lee), to Westport High and has collected $30000 fo rthe savant’s journey to America.

Things take on a nice balance, of sorts, until the arrival of Kelly (Timothy Olyphant), Danielle’s former producer who has come to take her back to the business. He is amiable enough, at first, treating Matthew as an equal. But, when the high schooler screws up a porn film shoot, costing Kelly some $30000, things change and Matt finds himself in big, big trouble.

“The Girl Next Door” (which has the same name as the 2000 documentary by Christine Fugate about the life of a porno starlet – a very interesting doc if you can find it) is written by Stuart Blumberg, Brent Goldberg and David Wagner and the trio of scribes have created a clever story that is wrought with feel good vibes and keeps things interesting until the end – which has the expected coda of “and they lived happily ever after.” The lively script, and director Luke Greenfield, makes good use of the talented young cast.

Likable Hirsch is sweetly matched with Elisha Cuthbert. At first, I thought the actress (whom I didn’t care for prior to seeing “TGND”) was too “giggly” for someone in the porno business but, as the film progressed, I realized that Danielle is really just a teen, about the same age as Matt, and has just fallen in love for the first time in her life. Cuthbert does not give the weight to her performance that Rebecca De Mornay did in “Risky Business” (the latter’s was a breakout performance unfortunately overshadowed by Cruise’s own megawatt perf). She does give a pleasing look to her objet de desire role.

The supporting cast does a superb job of fleshing out the background characters and stories. Marquette and Dano are a riot as the loyal sidekicks. Chris Marquette is especially good as the budding young filmmaker with dreams of breaking in to the business. Eli’s first major work as a director is an inspired piece and the young actor has onscreen chemistry which reminds of John Cusack years ago. Timothy Olyphant is also first rate as porno producer Kelly. The actor can turn from Matt’s good buddy to “I’ll rip your lungs out!” villain in the blink of an eye and still remain a likable character. James Remar has some decent moments as kingpin porno producer Hugo Posh and actually comes out in a positive light. Timothy Bottoms and Donna Bullock, as Matt’s dad and mom, seem to be there for little use – until Matthew’s frightening fantasy images of them with Danielle. It’s a priceless moment.

Techs are straightforward and help to keep things moving along at a good clip – not too long, not too short, it’s just right.

“The Girl Next Door” is one of the classier teen coming-of-age films I have seen. It offers humor, imagination, a little T&A (it is, after all, about a porno star) and clever story with a fine young cast. I give it a B+. 

Matthew Kidman (Emile Hirsch, "The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys") is so concerned with his studies and an essay competition for a scholarship to Georgetown that when he's asked to fill in 'What I remember most' for the Westport High School yearbook, he draws a blank.  What a difference a day makes. Matthew will be able to write that book after he meets "The Girl Next Door."

Story creators Stuart Blumberg and David T. Wagner ("Van Wilder, Saving Ryan's Privates") have, with screenwriter Brent Goldberg ("Keeping the Faith"), reached back twenty years to 1983's "Risky Business" and updated it for the Internet age.  Not officially touted as a remake or even a 'reimagining,' "The Girl Next Door" is indebted to the earlier film, but quite entertaining and engaging in its own right.  Director Luke Greenfield ("The Animal") has evoked a sweetly confused but determined performance from romantic lead Hirsch and hilarious but completely different character portrayals from strong supporters Chris Marquette ("Freddy vs. Jason") and Paul Dano ("Taking Lives") as Matthew's best buds Eli and Klitz.

Matthew is astonished to witness the disrobing of a beautiful young woman directly across from his bedroom, then flustered when she spies him and marches over and rings his bell.  Panic turns to wonderment when Mr. and Mrs. Kidman (Timothy Bottoms, "Elephant" and Donna Bullock) introduce him to his new neighbor, Danielle (Elisha Cuthbert, TV's "24"), asking if he'll guide the newcomer around town.  Danielle turns tables on Matthew, though, when she drives him out of his immediate neighborhood and demands that he strip in the street.  Then she begins to challenge him by asking 'what's the craziest thing you've done lately?'  In no time, the honor student is skinny dipping in his high school principal's pool.  Flush with puppy love, Matthew takes Danielle to a party thrown by school jocks only to find her whisked away by Brad Pitt lookalike Hunter (Jacob Young, TV's "All My Children," "General Hospital").  He's already learned well, though, and he stakes his claim on Danielle with their first kiss.

Then the sky comes crashing down.  Admiring buddy, aspiring filmmaker and porn lover Eli drags Matthew into the school's public access station to present him with a discovery - a videotape of a porno film starring Danielle.  As soon as Matthew's awkwardly dealt with the situation, Danielle is being whisked back into her old life by Kelly (Timothy Olyphant, "Dreamcatcher") and Matthew goes up against Vegas bodyguards, Ecstasy and the craziest exploit of his life on school prom night in order to save her.

"The Girl Next Door" shows its smarts immediately with its opening scene when what appears to be an X-rated shoot turns out to be a high school yearbook photo session.  Recurring motifs, such as Matthew's essay on 'moral fiber' and his sponsorship of a Cambodian student are artfully woven throughout the film while the plot itself keeps pulling Matthew's rug out from under him.  The film's final prom night crescendo is beautifully executed, hoodwinking us again just like the film's opening.  Nods to "Risky Business" go deeper than the obvious plot similarities, from the echoes of Tangerine Dream in Paul Haslinger's ("Underworld") score to Matthew's eventual loss of virginity.  (Noteworthy for a different reason is Danielle's professional name of Athena, the Greek virgin goddess of wisdom.)

Elisha Cuthbert is the young man's draw to this film.  She looks the part and is OK in the role, but "The Girl Next Door" belongs to Hirsch, who delivers a terrific comic performance.  Hirsch takes his character from adorably naive to engagingly confident.  He nails his X scene, an extended bit of goofiness leading up to his all important essay contest, without going over the top (watch Hirsch become mesmerized by an adult's tie).  Equally good is Marquette, a nerdier young John Cusack type, whose delivery of the film's funniest line alone should gain him fans.  Dano's Klitz, despite a name ripe for double entendres, is the outspoken, raunchy Eli's opposite, a nice balance for the trio.  Olyphant creates an inspired bad guy, all oily schmoozy charm until his agenda's challenged.  Unethical and hair trigger violent, Olyphant nonetheless remains likable somehow, and his advice - that the juice be worth the squeeze - should become the actor's tagline.

"The Girl Next Door" is an unexpected surprise, a teen sex comedy that turns out to have heart and smarts.


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