WFTB Score: 6/20
The plot: Ambitious high school senior Matthew Kidman has his sights on Georgetown and future greatness, until distracted by the arrival of shapely house-sitter Danielle. Nervously starting a relationship, he discovers that she has a past in adult films: his willingness to hold onto her at all costs involves him in a series of wild scrapes that put both his reputation and his plans in jeopardy.
On the surface a familiar high school comedy (non-Americans know all about proms, yearbooks and keggers by now: why do Americans drink beer out of paper cups?), The Girl Next Door spices up the mixture with the introduction of characters from the adult film industry, which we shall call ‘porn’ since everyone in the film does. Matthew (Emile Hirsch) is a lonely over-achiever whose bedroom overlooks that of Danielle (Elisha Cuthbert); when she catches him watching her undress, she demands he return the favour, leading Matthew into a journey of self-discovery as Danielle takes him out of his safe, responsible comfort zone. By the time his friends Eli and Klitz (Chris Marquette and Paul Dano) discover that Danielle is in fact a porn star, Matthew is already hopelessly in love, and not even the threats and machinations of slimy porn producer Kelly (Timothy Olyphant) can keep him away.
It is not only Matthew that is uncomfortable in this film. For the viewer, too, The Girl Next Door is strangely uncomfortable, at least if you watch it with an eye on more than the (mostly plastic) bare flesh on show, juxtaposing notions that don’t easily sit together. Chief amongst these is the fact that porn and comedy are – excuse the pun – uneasy bedfellows. Though the emotions they evoke are not exactly contradictory, the response to each is very different, unless you’re still sufficiently adolescent to find the idea of sex and naked or lingerie-clad women funny rather than sexy.
Perhaps the real issue is that, despite a few moments (I like Matthew’s loved-up scholarship speech), the film isn’t funny enough to keep the viewer amused. Certainly the plot surrounding the $25,000 needed to bring a Cambodian maths genius to America is light on laughs, and the climactic (no pun intended here) shooting of the movie during the high school prom raises the odd chuckle at best.
It has to be said, Emile Hirsch doesn’t do a lot to help matters. He’s a fairly cute-looking goody two-shoes who exudes blankness, lacking the goofiness of (for example) Jason Biggs in the American Pie franchise; when confronted by the charming but sinister presence of Olyphant’s Kelly, Hirsch’s lack of charisma is thrown into sharp relief. You wonder what Danielle sees in him, besides normality.
In a sense, though, it hardly matters what Matthew is doing, because the film is utterly absorbed with Elisha Cuthbert. The 24 star is not asked to exhibit much range in her acting, except to flex and pout for the camera in various states of near undress. Cuthbert is an extraordinarily beautiful woman and anyone interested in such things would be foolish to complain; however, it would have been nice if she was more than the doting girlfriend, the producer’s plaything, or the object of the director’s lascivious attention.
Then you have the touchy subject of Danielle’s age. There is an extended scene on the DVD in which Danielle reveals she is 19. Allowing for distribution and so on this would mean she was (barely?) 18 when the porno Matthew watches was made – and who knows when she made her first? It’s interesting that this was cut, although another scene where Kelly propositions girls at the high school is kept in. For me, there is an unsavoury sense of an older man’s fantasy in the movie, strongly suggested by the soundtrack which features artists totally irrelevant to the characters’ lives: Queen and Bowie, Thunderclap Newman, Lynyrd Skynyrd, closing with The Who’s Baba O’Riley – from 1971.
It’s not a complete loss: as I have said, Olyphant’s performance makes up for deficiencies elsewhere in the cast, Eli and Klitz have a bit of geeky fun, Cuthbert is absolutely gorgeous and at least the film is fairly frank about its subject matter, even if Danielle is suspiciously fresh-faced and innocent for a porn star. For the most part, though, The Girl Next Door shows abundantly that trying to make a movie that combines comedy and the sex industry is a particularly risky business.