The Girl Next Door
There is a very special place in the lore of film for the specific genre of the teen romantic comedy. By their very nature they are typically puerile, a bit raunchy and intentionally light. While many hold this against the film I personally can’t, I try to consider a film by the criteria set for its genre. With that in mind I sat to watch the unrated version of The Girl Next Door. Matthew (Emile Hirsch) is a high school student on the verge of graduation. As an over achiever and all round good student he looks at all his fellow students cutting class to go to the beach and realize that while he has the grades he never really had fun over the last years. He is up for a scholarship for ‘exceptional moral fiber’ and into his life comes the girl next door, Danielle (Elisha Cuthbert). As it turns out this sweet look, beautiful young girl was a porn star trying to get out of the adult business and start over. Of course, Matthew immediately begins to fall in love with Danielle. It’s the usual teenage angst as she warms up to him, they begin to hang out and finally Matthew feels like he is living, like he is doing something. Matthew’s best friend, Eli (Chris Marquette) is the prototypical teenage sex-obsessed movie sidekick. He shows Matthew a video tape of Danielle as the star in an adult film. Young Matt is now torn; he has genuine feelings for this girl and yet is confused about her past. Add to this a sleazy porn producer (Timothy Olyphant) who is trying to get Danielle to resume her ‘career’.
What sets this film apart from others of its ilk is there is an inherent warm to the characters. While they are somewhat one dimensional and most of the story is predicable the film came across as a tender coming of age tale. With all too many teen age comedies today the trend is to be overly sexualized. While the plot would lead to a perfect setup for endless, gratuitous nudity this film refuses to sink to that level. For that alone I have to give this film credit. Teen age emotions other than lust are considered here. There have been a lot of comparisons to the classic Risky Business and to some extend they are valid. Like that film the internal conflict of the leading male drives the film more than the sexual content. Even the unrated version of this film was tame in comparison to most films of this type. Most of the dramatic elements of the film centers on Matt’s feelings for the girl and his quest to keep her from being drawn back into the life of pornography. While at times this sinks into the ‘save the lost girl’ type of film it is handled with taste and real emotion. Even though my age precludes me from the target audience I still found I could enjoy this film.
The cast for this film was also better than the usual teen comedy. Emile Hirsch manages to bring a nice touch of humanity to his role. He actual comes across as a young man confused about his feelings and having to balance his growing love for this girl and pressure from his best friend. Hopefully, he will be afforded an opportunity to grow and extend his command of his craft. Elisha Cuthbert is perhaps best known for her role in the innovated Fox television series, 24. While Cuthbert looks a little bit older for this role she has an innate, underlying innocence that comes across on the screen. There is a perceivable chemistry between the two leads that greatly helps the production. Chris Marquette has a one dimensional role that serves only as a counterpoint to the character of Matthew. Actually, the most narrowly defined character in the film is Timothy Olyphant as the porn producer. He is only there to provide a sleazy factor and some sort of antagonist for the plot.
Luke Greenfield directed this opus. His previous ‘big’ film was the Animal featuring the dubious combination of Rob Schneider and former Survivor cast member Colleen Haskell. Coming off of such gimmick casting he has some way to go to learn to trust a story line and casting. The pacing of the film is well done. As one obstacle fades from the life of the hapless hero another rises to take its place. Unlike the current fade of such films Greenfield give the audience enough time to get to know the characters. He allows the natural emotional conflict of both Matthew and Danielle to drive the film rather than bowing to the easy way to titillate. Much to my surprise this approach was even maintained in the uncut version of the film.
Fox does a pretty good job of mastering this film. The anamorphic 1.85:1 video was well lit, with a color balance that provided true colors and flesh tones. The Dolby 5.1 audio was very light on the use of the rear speakers but a bit heavy handed with the use of sub woofer. There was a booming to the sub that overwhelmed the dialogue too often. There is a commentary track by director Luke Greenfield that is at times pedantic, the usual this is how we did this faire. There is a little featurette entitled Revealing the Girl Next Door that details some of the events surrounding production. This is pretty much the run of the mill; let’s add an extra that adds little to the film. One fun extra is a special trivia track mode that is sort of like the old VH1 pop up video. It provides a combination of really contrived ‘facts’ with some behind the scenes information. For those that are hoping to see nudity left out of the theatrical release you are going to be disappointed. There is none. While this ‘uncut’ edition is somewhat of a marketing ploy it still remains as a film that you can enjoy. While not up to the classics of the genre like Clueless or Pretty in Pink this film has its merits and will provide better than average entertainment value.