The Girl Next Door

on April 09, 2004 by Tim Cogshell
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Eighteen-year-old Matthew Kidman (Emile Hirsch, "The Dangerous Live of Alter Boys") is a straight-arrow who sees his long-term future in politics, as do his parents, teachers and peers. He falls for his new neighbor, the beautiful Danielle (Elisha Cuthbert of TV's "24"), only to discover she's a former porn star, and finds himself torn between varying emotions ranging from those fairly ordinary for a teenage boy in such circumstances to jealousy to fearing the loss of a bright future should he follow either his heart or his libido.

This is the sort of movie where the sassy girl helps the uptight boy break out of his shell, and the inexperienced boy helps the girl who has been around the block find her innocence. That alone would be irritating; fortunately "The Girl Next Door" is a good deal more than that. This is one of those almost unheard of films--the adult-oriented teenage romance. Which is to say it's rated R, and therefore not really for a teenage audience at all, which allows an edge that PG-13 does not. These are the most intriguing sorts of coming-of-age films, they're usually French or Italian and involve an older woman and lots of anticipated nudity and awkward moments. When they are American, they're usually distorted fantasies of youthful desires, which in many ways "The Girl Next Door" certainly is, too. When they are good, which "The Girl Next Door" also is, they contain a certain sophistication and frankness about sex and sexuality, and the way the world works when you look behind the curtains--or worse, grow up. In this case, there's a sense of something dark beneath the humorous porno-oriented asides that Matt experiences every time he sees Danielle in even the most innocent of circumstances. But the darkness is not just about the world of pornography, which is an easy target; it's also about a world that lays judgment on those who have wandered outside the mainstream, for whatever reason.

Director Luke Greenfield's debut film was "The Animal," starring Rob Schneider, a stupid comedy, and the story for "The Girl Next Door" is by screenwriters David Wagner and Brent Goldberg, who co-penned "National Lampoons: Van Wilder" and the urban comedy "My Baby's Daddy," none if which suggests the kind of depth developed here--a welcome, if surprising, outcome. Starring Emile Hirsch, Elisha Cuthbert, Nicholas Downs and Timothy Olyphant. Directed Luke Greenfield. Written by Stuart Blumberg and David Wagner & Brent Goldberg. Produced by Harry Gittes, Charles Gordon and Marc Sternberg. A Fox release. Comedy/Romance. Rated R for strong sexual content, language and some drug/alcohol use. Running time: 109 min

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