**/**** Image B+ Sound B+ Extras B+
starring Emile Hirsch, Elisha Cuthbert, Timothy Olyphant, James Remar
screenplay by Stuart Blumberg and David T. Wagner & Brent Goldberg
directed by Luke Greenfield
by Walter Chaw Though it reminds a great deal of Paul Brickman's Risky Business, The Girl Next Door reminds all the more that there's really only one Paul Brickman, and while this picture sustains the sleazy wish-fulfillment of Risky Business for a good long run, it can't replicate the same kind of insouciant rebellion. The exercise feels forced in a way that Risky Business doesn't, the earlier film's ease owing mostly to Brickman but also to another of Tangerine Dream's definitive Eighties scores and, perhaps, the bestial liquid chemistry between Tom Cruise and Rebecca De Mornay--a chemistry that's never quite replicated by a very fine Emile Hirsch and the very fine Elisha Cuthbert. Without the reckless air of youth on the verge, The Girl Next Door starts to feel like calculated imitation, becoming affected and, eventually, what a teenage sex comedy can't be: restrained. Its bark is worse than its bite, and in the end, only its premise is subversive.
Standing in for Risky Business' acerbically named Joel Goodson is Matthew Brickman (Hirsch), an affable over-achieving milquetoast of a boy more worried about school than getting his groove on. Matthew will eventually fall for Danielle (Cuthbert), the Lana figure transmogrified from call girl to porn star--and in so doing begin, like Joel, to adopt "just fuck it" as his fatalistic motto and mantra. Freeing oneself from the creeping consumerism of the early-Eighties a far cry from championing cocksure malaise in an era defined by that arrogant listlessness, The Girl Next Door goes more baldly for straight comedy, its resolution a series of twists that lead to a collegiate ending rather than an ambiguous close-up of the empty bug-eyed glaze of opaque Wayfarers.
Timothy Olyphant and Paul Dano steal the film from opposite sides of the arena, Olyphant with his frightening/suave porn king Kelly and Dano--striking just the right balance of nerd and stud in waiting--with his declining virgin Klitz. Both deserve better than their punchlines, even as each represents what it is about The Girl Next Door that succeeds: the feeling of danger on the one side and of fond fantasy fulfilled on the other. When the coming-of-age cinema works, it's based at least in part on the interplay of those experiences, lest the picture be just horror or merely smut. For the longest time, The Girl Next Door walks the line with its intelligence and within the abilities of its game cast, but as soon as the contrivance of a traveled porn queen falling for the president of the chess club starts being taken for granted, the film falls apart as an inexplicably inappropriate take on Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Without conflict, the picture aspires for comedy/thriller, deviating from the surreal adolescent wet dream of its first half in a fatal attempt to place the action within a realistic context.
Pulling its punches, turning its gaze discreetly, The Girl Next Door has already been savaged for pandering to audiences ostensibly too young to see it when it should really be savaged for not delivering the goods for audiences of an appropriate age. It's well-made and peopled with attractive actors who, even if they're not a far cry from the indie brat rabble, have a sense of humour about themselves. Too bad, then, that when the moments of crisis arise, the film shows itself to deserve some of its populist criticism--it's mature enough to talk the talk but not nearly courageous enough to walk the walk. Par for the course and more of a tragedy when, for a delirious hour or so, The Girl Next Door threatens to have something to say.
by Bill Chambers Observing some unwritten rule of teensploitation, Fox releases The Girl Next Door on DVD in separate R-rated and unrated editions. For review we received the latter, which is packaged with a brown slipcover ostensibly shielding Elisha Cuthbert's sugar and spice from view; like the movie itself (even in its unrated form), it's more barker than carnival--slide the cardboard away and Cuthbert is wearing a tube top and jean shorts. Presented in a handsome yet artifact-prone and sometimes "hot" 1.82:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer (flesh tones and facial details are occasionally muted by blown-out whites), the film remains free of nudity from Cuthbert but contains additional flesh in the form of porno clips and background exhibitionists. (Look out as well for an extended No Way Out-esque deflowering and an ominous insert of shotgun shells.) When all's said and done, the major difference between the duelling discs is that the unrated one forgoes a fullscreen rendering of the film in favour of additional supplements. These flipside goodies include fairly banal screen-specific commentary from Emile Hirsch for four scenes and Cuthbert for five. Here, the guileless Hirsch--who, at 18, still professes awe over boobies and cigars and Long Island iced teas--takes the odd good-natured dig at Cuthbert ("Elisha had her own chemistry going on"), while Cuthbert says things that probably should've remained as interior monologues, like her statement that she was channelling Angelina Jolie for part of her performance.
Directed by The Girl Next Door's own helmer Luke Greenfield, "The Eli Experience" (8 mins.) finds Chris Marquette reprising the role of Eli at a real-life Las Vegas porn convention, where, with the help of adult film star Brandon Iron, he punks guys who think they're going to get it on with a starlet. It's embarrassing, not only in the way of most reality-TV but also because treating The Girl Next Door as if its characters are at the real world's disposal veers perilously close to the self-delusion practised by everyone involved with the The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai. "A Look Next Door" (10 mins.) is your standard making-of fluff, although it reveals that the studio hesitated about hiring Cuthbert, lest she wasn't "sexy enough" to play Danielle--code, one suspects, for whether her sex appeal redeems her relative modesty. A 3-minute gag reel in which Cuthbert cracks up while faking an orgasm acquaints us with a moment or two found only in the section of deleted/extended scenes (16 in all, totalling 11 minutes), wherein Greenfield, providing optional voice-over, repeats "cut for time" like a mantra and generally demonstrates--as he does in his yakker for the film proper--that he rolls over easily when confronted with studio research. While the meaningless original ending was wisely snipped, there's simply no excuse for having shaved off the tail end of a kiss that imbued Danielle with a conscience less didactically than any of her subsequent actions.
A trailer for The Girl Next Door (despite the parenthetical "diRRRty," it's not exactly redband material), a reel promoting Cheaper by the Dozen, Stuck on You, and Welcome to Mooseport, and spots for the Broken Lizard's Club Dread and There's Something About Mary DVDs round out side B. Side A features not only the aforementioned Greenfield commentary, but also a riotously informative trivia track (did you know that it takes two tablespoons of blood to erect a penis? That the word "fuck" comes from the Latin "fuccant"?) and, of course, The Girl Next Door's 5.1 mix in Dolby Digital. The audio is rather tame, with only party atmosphere creeping into the surrounds, though Queen & David Bowie's "Under Pressure" has never sounded so glorious. Greenfield discusses that song selection and others in a yak-track that he admits off the top is his second for this film, since his first attempt didn't make it past Fox's legal department. Verbose but ineffably gun-shy, Greenfield rightly takes pride in the picture's opening montage, cues us to the footage restored for this unrated version (which he's careful to distinguish from a "Director's Cut"), and engenders goodwill through deferential shout-outs to various peers. With all that in his favour, it's too bad that the game of guessing what he's not saying proves to be such an overpowering distraction. Originally published: August 8, 2004.
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