A film review by Craig J. Koban


2004, R, 110 mins.

Matthew Kidman: Emile Hirsch / Danielle: Elisha Cuthbert / Kelly: Timothy Olyphant / Hugo Posh: James Remar / Eli: Chris Marquette / Klitz: Paul Dano / Mr. Kidman: Timothy Bottoms / Mrs. Kidman: Donna Bullock / Hunter: Jacob Young

Directed by Luke Greenfield / Written by Stuart Blumberg, David Wagner and Brent Goldberg

Young Matthew Kidman (Emile Hirsch) of THE GIRL NEXT DOOR sure shares a lot in common with the teenage Joel Goodsen of RISKY BUSINESS. 

In case you forgot, that Tom Cruise film concerned young Joel, an easy going, shy, impressionable, and intelligent high school student who is left home alone after his parents are away on vacation.  Well, that pesky Joel decides to take out his dad’s Porsche one night when he goes on a date with a call girl.  Unfortunately for Joel, he trashes the car and then engages in an ingenious scheme (with the help of the call girl, his new girlfriend) to raise money to replace the car by running a brothel out of his house.  Joel does this while trying to put himself together and make a good impression on the college visitors that wish to seek him as a student for their respective universities. 

That 1983 film was a real winner because it did something very difficult – it balanced content that was essentially crude and lewd and infused that into a story about characters that had real emotional weight.  The film invested into its characters, and we felt for them in the process.  Sure,  the film had sexual content, but there was always something behind it. 

THE GIRL NEXT DOOR definitely feels like a close relative to the Tom Cruise picture.  It too stars a young, smart A-plus student who is a social recluse and feels out of touch with the rest of the school and their students.  He’s the type of kid that would make all parents proud.  He’s an exceptional student, well liked and respected by his teachers, and definitely has plans for bigger and better things in life.  Actually, his greatest life ambition is to go to a great college (Georgetown, to be precise) and win a prestigious scholarship at a speech contest to ensure his segue into post-secondary success.  He’s an ordinary guy, and we instantly relate to him. 

However, his world changes forever, especially after he is caught gawking at Danielle (Elisa Cuthbert), a blond bombshell who now lives next door to him as she undresses before his eyes. 

Danielle is the girl of, well, just about every man’s dreams, regardless of age.  She is unapproachably gorgeous, luminous, and sexy beyond all human recognition.  Of course, it also facilitates any young teenager’s fantasy to have this girl move in right next door to them.  He is immediately (and rightfully) infatuated with this bombshell.   Matthew, not being very good with the ladies because of his timid nature, seems so transfixed with this apparent “angel” that he does not realize that he is obsessively staring at her from his bedroom window as she undresses in her own bedroom across from his.  Matthew does not notice this until its too late.  Danielle sees him watching, shuts the lights off, and within a minute, Matthew’s doorbell rings.  He’s been caught in the most heinous of guy sins…he’s been pinched watching a girl by the girl! 

The film then takes an unexpected turn, and I liked how it had me not anticipating its next move.  Danielle comes over to Matthew’s and quickly introduces herself to his parents.  However, and most importantly, she does not come over to complain at all.  She introduces herself and reveals that she is house-sitting for her aunt and asks Matthew’s parents if its okay if he takes her around the town to show her around.  Matthew breathes a huge sigh of relief and completely and willfully follows the woman of his dreams to her car. 

He thinks he’s Scott-free, but there’s a catch.  After a few minutes of social awkwardness between the two, the sexy Danielle starts to come on to Matthew and arranges a truce with him.  They’ll only be even when Matt undresses before her eyes right in the middle of the street.  Well, he does, being very intimidated by her, but once he’s in his birthday suit, she drives off with his clothes.  However, she’s a nice girl, and after she  lets him sweet it out a bit, picks him up.   

Danielle just may be the embodiment of what Matthew is looking for all his life.  She is obviously pretty, but she’s smart, sassy, a bit rebellious, and challenges himThe two eventually forge a relationship, and Matthew becomes the idol of his friends.  Matthew and Danielle have a mutually reciprocal relationship.  Danielle challenges Matthew in ways he never knew he could be, and Matthew provides her with a tender and compassionate soul she seems to have needed in her life.  In other words, they hit it off famously. 

Unfortunately for Matthew, things go very south from here, just when things were starting to completely go his way.  One day Matthew’s friend asks him to come over so he can show him something.  He puts in a tape into the VCR and a porn film comes on.  Okay, its not unusual for kids to be into this, but the catch here is that Danville appears in it.  Matthew is completely beside himself and flabbergasted.  He initially deals with it with absolute denial, which in turn moves towards anger, bitterness, disillusionment, and feelings of betrayal.  Eventually, they both come to grips with her life to a point where they realize that they love each other and feel that its best to leave her life behind. 

This is clearly easier said than done.  A weirdo producer from her past named Kelly (played with charming amounts of sleaze by Timothy Olyphant) shows up at her door and in no way will let her leave her live behind and negate the thousands of dollars he will most assuredly lose.  Kelly is a purebred jerk and antagonist, but has his own plan for retribution.  He eventually steals thousands of dollars that Matthew raised to bring a foreign exchange student to America.  Of course (much like in RISKY BUSINESS) if Matthew fails to raise the $20,000 over the weekend, he will not only jeopardize his scholastic career, but also will probably go to jail.  Yet, Matthew is ever so much like Tom Cruise’s Joel in the sense that he engages in a morally questionable solution to his career-threatening dilemma. 

The film is an obvious RISKY BUSINESS knockoff, but I was a little surprised by how much a lot of it worked.  I think that RISKY BUSINESS created the contemporary mould for what makes a good teen/sex comedy, and the makers of THE GIRL NEXT DOOR copy it down to a tee.  The thing that director Luke Greenfield and his screenwriters do successfully (that modern sex comedies like the dreadful EUROTRIP fail to) is to seriously invest in their characters.  Young Matthew is very well played by Emile Hirsch and, yes, he does remind me of a young Tom Cruise.  He is instantly likeable, disarmingly charming, naïve, yet a bit headstrong. 

I like how the screenplay really gets under his skin and does not treat he so stereotypically like other comedies treat teenagers.  THE GIRL NEXT DOOR treats young Matt like a real troubled and conflicted person and gives us a fairly genuine feeling of what its like to be unpopular and an outsider in school.  He also grows through the film, moving away from his shyness to a form of maturity and confidence that makes him a winning personality.  I also like that they developed Danielle into a character that the audience can relate to and sympathize with.  She’s not a dumb blond, and she clearly has Matthew’s number on many occasions.  She too is allowed to think, express her thoughts frankly, and is very cunning.  The success of the film is pinned on these two characters, and they make a very effective on-screen couple.  The film works during every one of their small scenes.  They have good chemistry, nice charisma, and (as we know all-too-importantly) we are made to like them. 

Where the film fails is in its laughably unrealistic final third act, where Matthew engages in a wicked and somewhat sleazy plan to make his $20,000 back.  Yes, Tom Cruise setting up a brothel in his parent’s home was not wholesome either, but at least it did not stretch credibility to unheard of lengths.  Not to give anything away, but there’s an undercurrent of vileness to his plan that kind of turned me off from his character, albeit momentarily.  Also, the execution of his plan would have never worked either at his chosen place or time.  The film also falters with his two friends, Eli and Klitz (uh…get it…Klitz?).  Matthew and Danielle are so well rounded and believable as characters.  Eli and Klitz seem to have walked off the set of VAN WILDER.  And the character of Kelly, although spooky and intimidating, seems a bit underdeveloped at times, and I think that a real man like him would have dealt with Mathew’s interference in his life much, much more harshly.

Despite my misgivings, I am giving THE GIRL NEXT DOOR a marginal recommendation, primarily because of my fondness for the two leads.  Every time they are on screen together, the film is on firm and strong ground and works.  The film builds up and develops these two so well into people I can resonate with that I am, very reservedly, willing to forgive the ludicrousness of its conclusion.  The film may be about a porn star, but its underlining tone is kind of sweet, sensitive, and warm.  Cuthbert and Hirsch are great together and the screenplay does not treat them like meat for some otherwise raunchy, gross, and physical sight gags that make us want to choke.  The film is raunchy, to be sure, but it invests it the two lovers and makes them smart. 

The film is clearly not meant to be an expose into the harsh underbelly of pornography, but neither was RISKY BUSINESS meant to be an introspective look into pimping.  Both films are essentially romantic comedies that wisely use a lurid premise to introduce us to funny and likeable characters that we believe in.  THE GIRL NEXT DOOR may not be as great as RISKY BUSINESS, but it’s a good film about personalities we WANT to root for and, when all is said and done, its miles ahead better than a lot of the dumb and degrading teen comedies that have been released in the last few years.  THE GIRL NEXT DOOR may run into some cinematic walls on occasions, but it still remains a nice little surprise.

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