Imagine one of every teenage boy’s secret desires: To have a porn queen move in next door. Not only next door, but in the bedroom whose window is directly across from his. Not only to see her but to fall in love with her, and her with him. Yeah, sure. But that’s what happens in 2004’s “The Girl Next Door,” a would-be, teen-sex comedy with very little sex, even less comedy, and a whole lot of smut.
I have to admit I’m a pretty old-fashioned guy when it comes to comedy. No, I don’t mean I object to sex or nudity or profanity if they’re used appropriately. I mean I expect comedies to be funny. I expect them, no matter how stupid, to have funny dialogue, like “Dumb and Dumber,” for instance; or funny situations, like “There’s Something About Mary”; or funny characters, like “Ghostbusters”; or a combination of all three, like “Tootsie” or “Some Like It Hot.” But “The Girl Next Door” has no funny lines, no funny situations, and no funny characters. The two highlights of the film come when the hero is forced to strip and run home naked, and later when two of his friends are chased through a convention hall by a burly bodybuilder. Not a smile from this viewer.
Beyond the initial premise of having a porn star move in next door to the young hero, an idea with endless possibilities that go unexplored, the film offers nothing that isn’t formulaic, that hasn’t been done a hundred times before in other teen comedies. Take, for example, the time-honored Hollywood tradition of having most of the teenagers in the film portrayed by actors in their mid-to-late twenties. I applaud the fact that the main character, Matt, is played by eighteen-year-old Emile Hirsch, and that his two best friends at least look like high-school boys, but everyone else in the film could have been appearing in “Animal House II.” Then there’s the sparkling new, antiseptically clean high school itself, with a student body that is not only almost entirely white but incredibly beautiful as well. To be fair, the filmmakers throw in a couple of token black people, but that’s it; and they’re beautiful black people to boot. Matt’s neighborhood is apparently in a neverland of California that exists only in the movies.
And the teachers are all middle-aged, grumpy, and non-beautiful. The only sly touch in the script is naming the principal Dr. Salinger, although I doubt that the real-life J.D. Salinger would appreciate being portrayed as a grouchy old administrator. The students come and go through the school at their leisure, ditching when they feel like it, walking out of class unquestioned, cutting to the beach, driving out through the main school gates, laughing and shouting, in huge numbers in the middle of the day. Parents, of course, are either amazingly stupid, as Matt’s parents are, or entirely absent. One of Matt’s teenage friends watches porn flicks all day every day in his bedroom and in the living room. His parents are apparently nonexistent, like every other kid’s in the film. Matt is allowed into strip clubs and porn conventions, served alcoholic drinks, and even permitted to engage in a lap dance, not once being asked for his ID or his age. You get the point. Every teen should be so lucky.
Be that as it may, the two actors playing the main characters, Emile Hirsch as Matt, the teenage boy, and Elisha Cuthbert as Danielle, the porn star, are quite appealing. Of the two, Hirsch’s character is a little easier to figure out. He’s a shy young fellow who obviously has trouble with girls. He’s bright, though, and has been accepted into Georgetown University. What’s more, he’s competing for a big scholarship to help him pay his way. So when Danielle moves in next door, we can understand his surprise and delight as Danielle takes an interest in him.
But Danielle is a bit trickier to understand. She looks to be in her twenties (which the actress is) but claims to be only nineteen. She clearly doesn’t want to be a porn star but stays in the business anyhow. She is apparently in great demand in her business but takes time out to house-sit for a couple of weeks. And while she could have any man in the world, she falls for a young nonentity like Matt. She seems to be a part of the movie’s continued efforts to stereotype everything in sight. According to their theories, actresses in adult films feel degraded and humiliated and long to be out of the business at almost any cost, yet they can’t resist the money or the demands of their slave-owner bosses. I didn’t buy any of it.
When Matt discovers Danielle’s business as a porn queen, he behaves like a complete jerk about it. Not unreasonable. But then the film takes a melodramatic turn, and any semblance of comedy the film may have demonstrated in the first half is thrown out the window. Matt decides to reform Danielle, because he “believes” in her and her potential, and he spends the rest of the film trying to persuade her to give up her humbling, demeaning profession. Fair enough, but it doesn’t make for the most compelling movie, since the story must now turn serious and attempt to convey a lesson about living the “good,” “moral” life as opposed to a decadent one. The two halves of the plot hardly mesh.
Also along the way we meet Kelly (Timothy Oliphant), Danielle’s scumbag, psycho producer. True to cliché, he’s a total sleaze, but he’s the only character in the picture worth watching because he’s so unpredictable–charming one moment, larcenous and violent the next. If the whole movie had been about him, I might have enjoyed it more. His ex-partner, porn producer Hugo Posh (James Remar), is as unscrupulous as Kelly, and together they paint as bleak a picture of the adult-film industry as you could imagine. Everyone else in the movie is equally stereotyped: Matt’s two friends are a blowhard named Eli (Chris Marquette) and a nerd named Klitz (Paul Dano). And Matt’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Kidman (Timothy Bottoms and Donna Bullock), are the same empty-headed parents we found in old 1950s television shows.
The second-biggest problem I had with the movie, besides its not being very funny, is that it’s as hypocritical as anything Hollywood has ever produced. It wants to have it both ways; it wants to show us how corrupt and abasing the porn industry is, while at the same time using an abundance of sex and nudity to sell its own product. Matt is supposed to be a morally upright fellow who learns to let go and be himself and follow his heart. Or something like that. But rather than the movie elevating any moral fiber in anyone or promoting the importance of equal rights or femininity, it exploits them all and degrades everyone concerned for the sake of cheap laughs and titillation. It was made by the same director, Luke Greenfield, who gave us Rob Schneider’s “The Animal” a few years earlier.
Finally, a word about the film’s “unrated” marketing scheme. It would appear from the keep case that one of the main reasons a prospective buyer might consider getting the disc is to see more of Ms. Cuthbert. Forget about it; it ain’t gonna happen. There are several nude scenes in the movie, true, but they do not involve much of Ms. Cuthbert. The “unrated” version of the film is somewhat like the brown cardboard wrapper that fits over the case. It promises something sexually intriguing beneath it, but when you slide it off, it reveals nothing more than the disc’s original cover picture.
Be that as it may, “The Girl Next Door,” for all its attempts at providing insights into the teenage psyche, is mainly an excuse to ogle girls and to engage in typical clichés, like telling us sexually active guys are studs, sexually active girls are sluts, and adult-movie actresses are whores. I found it a sorry excuse for entertainment and a waste of the talents of several good performers.
Given that the Fox people usually do an outstanding job transferring their movies to disc, this one is a disappointment. Not that it’s bad; it’s just ordinary. The widescreen anamorphic image measures a ratio approximately 1.74:1 across a standard television; the colors are fairly rich and realistic; and the picture is clean. Grain shows up to a small degree in nighttime shots, but mostly the screen is clear of unwanted distractions. Detail and definition, however, are only average and not on a par with Fox’s better work.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 sound reproduction is fine for blasting out loud, boomy bass but not much else. Very little information is fed to the surround speakers, and most of the dialogue is firmly rooted in the center channel. I noticed some use of the surrounds during the Vegas convention scene and later a few birds twittering in the trees, but that was about all. On the plus side, there is nothing openly wrong with the sound, either; it simply does its job with a minimum of fuss and absolutely no glamor.
The first and foremost “extra” on this unrated edition is nine minutes of additional material, ostensibly of a sexually provocative nature. But the folks at Fox do not provide any indication of what was added, and the result is hardly provocative. If one is looking for the “more skin, more sex, and more laughs” promised on the unrated edition’s packaging, one is in for a disappointment. I didn’t notice any more skin or sex here than in most R-rated movies, and if this is the studio’s idea of more laughs, I’d hate to have seen the theatrical version. Regardless, the term “unrated” simply means the movie was never submitted to the movie ratings board and not that it should be equated with something NC-17 or X rated.
Anyway, the regular extras include the following: An audio commentary by director Luke Greenfield; several scene-specific commentaries by Emile Hirsch and Elisha Cuthbert; a feature trivia track that shows text info on the screen; a nine-minute promo, “A Look Next Door”; a seven-minute featurette, “The Eli XXXperience”; sixteen supposedly uncensored but harmless deleted and extended scenes, including an alternate ending, with or without commentary; a two-minute gag reel; and a photo gallery. The extras conclude with twenty-eight scene selections; several Fox theatrical trailers, including one for “The Girl Next Door”; English, French, and Spanish spoken languages; and English and Spanish subtitles.
“The Girl Next Door” tries to be a sweet “message” picture expounding a wholesome image of love and friendship and bonding and understanding, but what it really wants to do is tantalize, tease, and taunt with sexual innuendos and implied or simulated sex. And if that fails, market the DVD as “unrated,” with the promise of even more sex. Nothing works.