The Girl Next Door
Director(s): Luke Greenfield
Writer(s): Stuart Blumberg, David Wagner and Brent Goldberg
Cast: Emile Hirsch, Elisha Cuthbert, Timothy Olyphant, James Remar, Chris Marquette and Paul Dano
Reviewed by: Ian Evans on
Release Date(s)Apr 9, 2004 - Wide
The Girl Next Door is a challenge for movie marketers used to labelling their products with one easy to digest label and slapping it on the shelves for distracted buyers to quickly make their minds up and purchase. There’s a lot of competition at the local cinema and you need a quick hook. But what happens if movie doesn’t necessarily fit one convenient slot, like a musician that puts heavy metal, country and adult contemporary songs on the same CD? Well, if you’re the filmmakers, you hope that the word-of-mouth about your film soon gets louder than the label it was sold under.
Matthew (Emile Hirsch) is a by-the-book high school senior who has kept his nose to the grindstone as he heads towards his dream of going to Georgetown University. He’s one of those students who hasn’t built up a lot of high school memories because he’s been too busy memorizing. Nothing very interesting has happened to him until Danielle moves in next door.
Danielle, played by 24’s Elisha Cuthbert, looks like the kind of girl who’s stepped from the cover of a magazine. Matthew sees her undressing through her bedroom window one night, but his light is on and he’s caught red-handed, so to speak. Danielle, who says she’s house sitting, heads over to confront Matthew. She takes him for a ride, gets him to strip down and heads off with his clothes. I’m assuming the naked walk back home probably gave Matthew his first high school memory.
Strangely, this exposure to each other begins a kind of sweet and innocent courtship between the pair. When his friend Eli (Chris Marquette) discovers that Danielle is actually an ex-porn star who worked under the stage name “Athena”, Matthew’s reaction to the news sends her back into the industry under the watchful eye of her sleazy ex-producer (and ex-boyfriend) Kelly, played by Timothy Olyphant.
It’s at this point that the film takes a turn from the standard teen comedy formula. There are all the usual twists and turns from that genre, and the teens tend to get away with things that would get real teens expelled, but they’re slightly darker, a little seedier.
Yet in many ways, even though one of the subjects is the porn industry, The Girl Next Door is actually sweeter and more benign than raunchy comedies like American Pie. There are no flying body fluids in this flick and the film’s female lead doesn’t even get naked, though there is nudity in the film.
Cuthbert and Hirsch are solid in their roles. It would be easy to portray them as just the sexpot and bookworm but they do have layers and meet each other in the middle as one retreats from a world of sleaze and the other from a world of safety. Chris Marquette and Paul Dano, who plays Klitz “Spelled with a ‘K’”, portray Matthew’s friends with the appropriate amount of scheming and egging on that the lead’s friends are required to present in this genre, while Timothy Olyphant plays Kelly the porn producer as a guy who seems to be a cartoon at first only to reveal a darker underbelly.
Director Luke Greenfield, working off a script by Stuart Blumberg, David Wagner and Brent Goldberg, has us heading down a road we thought we’ve driven down before, only to show us some sights and detours we were not expecting.