Pros: Seamless blend of teenage romance and kinky comedy, with a fine cast and serious charm.
Cons: One considerable plot hole and a considerably situation-filled story.
THE GIRL NEXT DOOR, which will be released in theaters April 9, 2004, has been a movie I wanted to see the sneak preview of for the longest time. Thank God Twentieth Century Fox and Regency Entertainment gave the chance to see this one in a second sneak preview. I don't know if this is a sign of fear that this is the second time they have allowed a sneak peak at the actual movie (the other preview was in March, the Friday before I saw the "Starsky & Hutch" sneak preview which is the basis of my recent film review), but I think that Fox have a good thing on their hands. I saw this one on Saturday, March 20, at the Harkins Superstition Springs 25 in Mesa, AZ, and I was drawn not just because of Elisha Cuthbert, the gorgeous Canadian blondie who plays Kim Bauer on TV's "24" (and had a walk-on in 2003's "Old School") and is seen in a sizzling pose on the films poster art, but because it immediately reminds me of two really great 1980's comedies with similar premises.
In the 1983 cult classic "Risky Business," Tom Cruise was a straight Chicago teenager who was content to play air guitar in his underwear until his chance encounter with a hooker played by Rebecca DeMornay made him into a man, made his house into a brothel, and made him the target of Joe Pantoliano's peeved pimp. And for the baby boomer brother of "Risky Business," we got Jonathan Demmes masterful 1986 black comedy "Something Wild," with Jeff Daniels as a stuffy father, husband and businessman who falls in love with a wild and crazy girl (Melanie Griffith) who literally steals him away from yuppie life and engages in fun games of kinky sex and robbery. Unfortunately, they run into Griffith's ex, a fresh-from-jail menace played in a classic film debut by Ray Liotta, later heading on to breakout roles in "Dominick & Eugene" and "Goodfellas."
THE GIRL NEXT DOOR is in the same vein, owing as much to the teenaged splendor of "Risky Business" as it does to the surprisingly intense "Something Wild," with bits and pieces of John Hughes thrown in for good measure. This is thankfully not a gross-out film, like recent teen flicks stemming from "American Pie" and beyond, falling back not on bodily fluids and erect penis situations but instead on a sweet romance threatened with termination by a series of escalating blunders and mishaps that threaten to ruin both the lives of the love-struck boy and his faithful, attractive girlfriend.
When it begins, we are looking back at the 2004 senior class of Westport High School getting their pictures taken for yearbook and reflecting on their best memories of the year. All the assortment of jocks, honeys, and goons have their moments, and then Matthew Kidman, an erudite, JFK-idolizing outsider, sits down with a smile hiding a serious frown. Despite being student council president and voted as "the brightest leader of tomorrow," where he is getting ready to attain a scholarship for admission to Georgetown and also herald the arrival of a supremely intelligent Cambodian exchange student named Samnang (Ulysees Lee), there is a big black hole where his satisfaction with life should be. It's not like he's a geek the jocks push around, but he's a daydreamer who gets left behind by the social hierarchy. His closest friends are Klitz (Paul Dano), a boring do-nothing nerd, and Eli (Chris Marquette), a porn-addicted sex hound who doesnt want to follow Matt to the beach because he thinks it's gay (in other words, he'd rather spank to on-TV intercourse).
Compelled with a longing to live yet also tied to the milquetoast lifestyle which has him struggling to prepare a speech about "moral fiber" for the big scholarship recipient dinner, Matt finds an out-of-nowhere surprise right next door: Danielle, the bombshell to end them all, is house-sitting for a vacationing owner, and when he looks her in the eye, he's won over. The next thing he's doing is calling Eli telling him he saw Aphrodite herself, and then what happens...she's undressing right in front of him! God have mercy, she be hot! It's like Jack Black might say: she's a "cream dream."
But voyeurism doesn't go unnoticed: when she catches him, she decides to give him an interesting penalty on a drive around the block.
It takes a certain kind of girl to make a man act funny, and Danielle is certainly the one for Matt. They strike up a surprisingly tender romantic relationship, which is put through dire straits when Eli shows up with a videotape to break the news to Matt: Danielle is really Athena, a big-name porn star whose last film featured her giving wood to martial artists. There's no doubt what Eli wants Matt to do: "take her to a motel room and bang her like a beast!" Silly Matt listens to his best friend, and ends up seriously ruining a perfectly good thing by driving them to a motel room and having Danielle walk out in heartbreak. Matt catches onto his folly too late: the next time he sees her, her old producer and one-time flame Kelly shows up to whisk her away to Vegas and coax her back into the adult film industry by parading her at a convention.
Now, the screenplay (credited to David T. Wagner, Stuart Blumberg and Brent Goldberg) would efficiently end on this note had there be no imagination. But it doesn't. Matt drags his friends to Vegas to win back Danielle, and they do, but they've only opened up a world of hurt. See, Kelly is a business man, and when you f*ck with his business, you f*cked with his pride, and then he gets mean ("Always know if the juice is worth the squeeze," he warns Matt). Not only does he have Matt break into the luxury home of his old producing partner, Hugo Posh, to steal an award (in the shape of a golden dong, no less), he then embezzles the $25,000 Matt collected to have Samnung come to America after Danielle's absence sets him back that amount, plus an additional five grand. All this, and he's late for that big dinner, as well as hopped up on X because Kelly duped him into thinking it was aspirin after a surprise knock to the cranium.
Desperate times call for desperate measures, and the way Matt, Danielle and the two friends attempt to raise money to save their futures is a wild surprise I wouldn't dream of giving away.
It's the most surprising thing in the world to realize that the creative forces behind some really bad movies could churn out something so sublime. The director, Luke Greenfield was previously saddled with the awful Rob Schneider-starring, Happy Madison-produced stinker "The Animal," and writers Goldberg and Wagner previous wrote "National Lampoon's Van Wilder." Needless to say, this must have been their one big project they wanted to make amidst these colorless titles of dreck (Blumberg had written "Keeping The Faith," that old Edward Norton movie which didn't suck). They have made what seems to be a formula movie on the surface, but, just as Mike White and Richard Linklater did with "The School Of Rock," they put enough charm, wit and warmth into the film for it not to pander or seem cynical. And because of the unimpressive track record of these people, it's refreshing to know they finally had the smarts to defy expectations.
Throw out whatever hype fed about this movie being sleazy or immoral, because that would be missing the point. The movie works so well with familiar elements that it puts a lot of the romantic comedies based on "Cinderella" fantasies to shame. In fact, I am going to defy Roger Ebert and say that this movie is ten times better than he gives it credit for (remember, he's giving "The Alamo" thumbs up). It blends screwball humor, romance, suspense, coming-of-age, Americana, teen fantasy fulfillment, and the big finale at the Senior Prom, all of which have either been done to death or to the point of twitching. Yet, I thought this was a well-acted and at least well-written movie.
Most people will try to discredit this movie because of its use of the porn industry as a romantic comedy tool. What did you want, a rerelease of "The Girl Next Door" from 1998? Of course, this movie uses the industry but it never turns into a NC-17 farce like "Orgazmo," instead unraveling some of the more appealing charms and king-sized laughs as a result. I couldn't help but grab my sides as I saw Matthew come home from his revelation with Danielle's past and engage in three mini-fantasizies where he imagines her engaging in risque business with his parents. And when the prom night debacle delivers its pay off, which I will not ruin, the result will knock you in for a loop. It's not like those lame college capers ("Eurotrip" and "Old School" step to the judge) that simply want to be crass just for the sake of being crass, but instead takes time to get us interested in characters and situations (a la "Something About Mary") so that we can hardly believe it when things get bad.
And also, this is a movie about high school, not college, and not since John Hughes and Cameron Crowe cranked out the best movies of 80's adolescent life that we've seen such a vivid depiction of an innocent, pure high school life. Too many movies play onto stereotypes, and I can accuse this movie of the same thing, but they don't blow up the personality traits of the jocks and b*tches to the point where they become plot checkers. The nerds even seem less stereotypical, more like normal, shy kids you'd likely see walking down the hallway at where you went to school at. When Matthew manages to score a boost of much-needed confidence at a graduation party, you feel the confidence run through his body, and it's quite invigorating.
I neglected to mention Emile Hirsch, a young actor making his first lead role, because I think he just may be the next John Cusack. Indeed, he kind of looks like a fusion between him and (shudder) Ashton Kutcher, albeit quite younger. But just like Cusack did when he took the role of the lovable party animal Walter Gibson back in Rob Reiner's "The Sure Thing," Hirsch embodies all the handsomeness, charm, physical quirks and personal significance his character is given. This is a 3-D character who manages to almost end up crashing a party because he's been drugged, and we feel for his character even at his worst behavior (he even overcomes his trip by admitting his love for Danielle). We hope he will get the girl, get back at the vindictive weasel and share some good times with his two friends, whom are affectionately dubbed a "tripod." This will be a breakout role for Emile.
Also of notice is Elisha Cuthbert, a sassy and VERY sexy 21-year-old starlet who has an infectious smile, a baby's face, and a bodacious body all played to her advantage. You just might forget how amazingly natural she is playing a woman of her age, and the fact that she isn't as much of a mystery as Rebecca DeMornay or Melanie Griffith shouldn't be held against her: she's 21! There is one really big plot hole, as in to how she originally got involved with Kelly is not explained. We do sense her motivation for her love of Matt, her longing to leave her old life behind, her betrayal at Matt's hands that leads her to runaway, and the innocence inside her that pleads her to lead a new life with real love and affection and not just endless sex on camera. This is more than just your standard object of desire foil (I know we see Elisha in a bra for 15% of the movie, and even endures a wet T-shirt scene without gratuitous nipple pokie), but a genuinely loving portrayal by an actress who has a surprisingly wider-than-expected range. Never have I fallen into such infatuation with an onscreen female character than I did for Danielle, and Cuthbert should officially be declared the "Hottest Girl In America." Even in the promotional ads in that black dress...hummina, hummina!
It's also a testament to both these buzz worthy performers that they generate a wild amount of chemistry and interest. The "first kiss" sequence between these two characters has been filmed with such compassion that it is the best I've seen since the original "My Girl" from 1991. And there's another noteworthy kiss in the prom limousine scene that I will leave you to see for yourself.
And another actor whom I forgot to disclose is Timothy Olyphant, who I felt got criminally squandered in his last performance in the Stephen King-based "Dreamcrapper." But boy is he good here...glo-ry beeeeeeeee! The man is kicking some serious @ss! I loved the way Kelly is such a loose cannon that you can never be sure when he just might sock you in the gut, and the fact that he is such an insatiable tail-chaser is astounding (I loved that scene where he's chatting up the girlfriends of all the jocks seeing if they would ever want to be in his movies). There are many times in this film where he channels the bravado of great Bill Paxton performances, sporting his brown jacket, a Stephen Dorff-ish hairdo, and a weasely grin that both tickles your funny bone and your spinal cord. Just like I can't truly describe how attractive Cuthbert is, I cannot explain in words how off-the-wall and fresh this sly character Olyphant inhabits is.
As for Matt's two ragtag friends, you find yourself rooting the most for the painfully closeted loner Klitz (funny name, eh?) and laughing the most at the libidinous director-in-training Eli. While I do credit Paul Dano for pulling off such a sympathetic nebbish, Chris Marquette is a great big twister of presence as Eli. You may remember him from last year's "Freddy Vs. Jason" as Linderman, the geek who won the heart of an ex-Destiny's Child singer. Well, for comic relief, he sometimes threatens to give Olyphant a run for his cigars. The moment where he's literally screaming "F*CK HER FOR ME! FOR ME!" in front of Matt and several on-lookers outside the school is a perfect example of a great verbal belly laugh.
For a movie based on the porn industry, we do get delivered exactly what we want: nudity! Although Elisha Cuthbert never gives us any true T&A shots, a bevy of actual porn stars do sans clothing in some moments, and indeed we see Matt's character bare behind in a few shots. Now, I believe he had a body double because Emile's only 18, but I can't be sure about Elisha, because even though she never bares the key areas of flesh which merit R-ratings, we do see a partial breast and a butt shot (albeit in thong undergarment). However, cleavage she does provide in ample doses, which doesn't bother me at all. A little cheesecake never hurt no one (right, Mr. Bruckheimer?).
What I also enjoyed was a soundtrack flavored with variety of good songs. The movie opens with the Queen/David Bowie smash "Under Pressure," throws in some familiar Filter ("Take A Picture"), LaBelle ("Lady Marmalade"), Muddy Waters ("Mannish Boy") and The Who ("Baba O'Riley") for measure, uses David Gray ("This Year's Love") in a key moment of romantic interest, dusts off obscure classics from Echo & The Bunnymen ("The Killing Moon") and Nilsson ("Jump In The Fire"), and also has Methods Of Mayhem ("Get Naked") punctuate the big scene in the porno convention, which is a credit to production designer Stephen J. Lineweaver for capturing such a glitzy interior design. I also appreciated the solid editing by Mark Livolsi ("Vanilla Sky," "Pieces Of April"), cinematography by Jamie Anderson ("The Gift," "Bad Santa"), and music by Paul Haslinger, who was a member of Tangerine Dream from 1986 and beyond (you know what that means..."NEAR DARK" BABY!). In fact, I think some musical score moments seemed reminiscent of the Tangerine Dream work in "Risky Business." Hmmm...
Make no mistake about it, THE GIRL NEXT DOOR is a surprisingly charming film. If there's any justice from what the test screening reports signified, expect to see the surprise hit of the year on April 9. It's a pure, welcome surprise, a small relief given the relentlessly crass nature of so many romantic comedies (I'm looking at you, Mr. Sandler!), and in both Emile Hirsch and Elisha Cuthbert, displays two naked talents, both literally and figuratively. From the opening fanfare of the Twentieth Century Fox logo to the end credits, preceded by a funny "What happened to...?" prologue, THE GIRL NEXT DOOR is sweet temptation futile to resist, and all the better for it. This is the most developed, reality-based sexual comedy (not sex comedy!) I've seen in ages, and deserves the same kind of American audience backing that made "American Pie" such a bankable franchise (don't put your money in The Whole 10 Yards or "Ella Enchanted"). In fact, I'm taking my sister and our friends to see this movie, and I hope you do the same with your close friends.
In fact, I'm going to be unforgivingly bold in my defense of this truly amazing new movie: f*ck The Perfect Score, "The New Guy," "A Walk To Remember," "She's All That," and any other of those fake shakes that claim to be the heralds to the classic high school comedy. This is how it's supposed to be done!
Providing an early review of the DVD release of the movie, I realize that the film didn't do as well as it should in theatres. But that's alright, because even the respectable "Hellboy" failed to completely gross its budget back in its theatrical run. There's a cult audience for THE GIRL NEXT DOOR just waiting out there, because this is indeed a good movie and one worth picking up in its recent "Unrated" release. The unrated DVD contains a cardboard slipcase around the clamshell cover which supposedly hides Elisha Cuthbert's gorgeous naked body, but instead proves to be another screech in a milk carton as the underlying image of Cuthbert shows her wearing a tank top and cut-off jean shorts. And the unrated version contains the same partial nudity Cuthbert displayed in the film. The major additions to this unrated release includes some background nudity that was left off the theatrical release (the strip club scene contains a topless woman grinding Emile Hirsch in his chair), as well as a shot of Eli tripping over himself while chasing after Matthew to tell him to make the best of the porn star situation, and a shot of bullet shells scattered on the floor as Matthew and Kelly approach Hugo's house. It's more than the recent unrated version of "Taking Lives" offers, and that's at least something.
The movie itself, unless you go for the theatrical cut with both widescreen and pan & scan versions of the movie, comes in 1.85:1 as formatted for 16x9 television sets. It's a flipper disc as well, with the movie on one side and the bonus features on the other. But to get back to the picture quality, I was only moderately amazed by the transfer in this film. Detail is consistent throughout most of the movie, only slightly teetering off into haziness, but for the most part I hadn't any problems with the look of the film in terms of contrast and image clarity. The color palette feels somewhat bold because the whites seem so strong that they take away from the saturation of flesh tones and night shots, but all the colors seem to represented with great detail and richness, never getting noisy or bleeding. The movie looked really great in spots, and that's seems to be all that it takes for a movie to be at least average. And print flaws are limited to slight instances of artifacts and grain, with no edge enhancement or grit/marks to ruin anything. It's a rather handsome transfer, not superb, but great shakes anyway.
As for the Dolby 5.1 soundtrack, I really didn't have high hopes because I yet again must deal with a comedy mix, and they tend to be really unaware of the channel support around them. The opening of this movie pays attention to the 5.1 surrounds and offers a few moments of nifty spectrum action, from the sounds of cameras in the rear surrounds to the driving force of Queen/David Bowie's "Under Pressure" in the stereo surround mix to the nice little low-end reaction to the deflation of a giant inflatable pig. Aside from musical reinforcements and the occasional ambience in a party background or such, everything gets confined to the front and the movie anchors dialogue, effects and songs on the three speakers. And the movie sounds definitely clean and clear, with a soundtrack full of old-time pop gems grafted nicely onto the mix. After "Donnie Darko" and now this, I would love to hear what a 5.1 remix of Echo & The Bunnymen's "The Killing Moon" would sound like in my home theater. And dialogue always sounds clear and refreshing, never edgy or flat. You can also enjoy the bonus options of Dolby 2.0 mixes in French and Spanish languages, or take in the English and Spanish subtitles as well.
Kicking off this generous platter of extras, which makes it all the more worthy for fans of the relatively forgotten recent movies, director Luke Greenfield contributes a running audio commentary for this one, which was recorded from a second session after he said some things that got him pegged by the Fox Home Entertainment legal department. Greenfield has anticipated doing a commentary for this himself, and he launches into the proceedings with a combo of film discussion as related to the characters and plot, his intentions toward writing music cues into the script, small instances of steady production detail, and, of course, the notice of cut scenes and restored footage as pertaining to this cut of the film. I enjoyed the talk about how Greenfield wanted to utilize a live version of U2's "Bad" into the scene with the speech, but couldnt clear the rights with Bono on time (the whole movie, he points out, was made on a rushed schedule), his own high school experiences which relate to his depiction of the movies outsider view, and some instances of general information as to the writing of the film and the working with the performers. Greenfield makes sure he gets the most to say in this commentary, always displays a fine sense of earnestness and enthusiasm, and makes for a fine little session that is well worth the sit-through.
Also on the movie side of the disc is a trivia subtitle track, which seems to be a familiar bonus for those who like high school/college coming-of-age romance movies on special edition DVD. Always full of outlandishly intriguing bits of statistical and logical information that plays well in onscreen text form beside the sound of Greenfield's banter, this gets into a lot of dandy "pop-up video" detail on information as related to the film, the cast, the crew, the shooting and several dozen bits of delightful throwaway info. For instance, you burn 2 calories per minute when you are driving, most males see their first nudie magazine at the age of 11, two tablespoons of blood flow into an erect penis, and perhaps the most famous curse word in history comes from Latin origins. I don't want to give it all away, but I say view this with the commentary and you might just develop some more respect for this one.
The special features flipside opens with two scene-specific audio commentaries by actors Emile Hirsch and Elisha Cuthbert. Hirsch speaks on four scenes, whereas Cuthbert yaks on five. Hirsch is basically an observant speaker, simply making quips about the action on screen and the characters in the movie. When we see Hirsch discussing the "streaking in the street" sequence, he admits his character is so sincere he wouldn't cut it as a poker player. Hirsch still has adolescent yearnings towards breasts and booze, as he is still just a teenager, and he recalls how he first got involved in the movie through meeting Luke and recalls the blistering cold Long Beach weather. Cuthbert, on the other hand, is a constant talker who gets more into how she fashioned her character by studying Angelina Jolie, her decisions on going deeper into revealing skin shots and a reluctance to commit to full frontal nudity, crediting herself with drawing her own character sketch in the diner scene, and the worry over her hair turning green in a pool full of chlorine. Both are decent reflections, but Cuthbert's is the more informative and engaging of the duo.
A Look Next Door, at about 10 minutes length, is substandard EPK marketing material which contains fawning interviews from cast and crew and only the slightest bit of intriguing information as to the production of the film. For instance, Twentieth Century Fox, whose TV division airs and distributes the series "24," werent all that keen on casting Elisha Cuthbert as the sexpot, simply because she wasn't that attractive despite her "24" success gave way towards revealing magazine shoots for Maxim and FHM that showed she was highly attractive. Isn't that just a strange perception? Other than that, everybody seems to be merely promoting the film by way of apple polishing, and the only saving grace here is the welcome inclusion of behind-the-scenes material and alternate takes.
Presented as a reality-TV show prank sketch a la "Punk'd," The Eli Experience (7:56) stars Chris Marquette's horn dog sidekick as the director of a porno movie being shot at the real Las Vegas AVN Awards. Eli hires adult film actor Brandon Iron (who appears in the movie as the irate boyfriend of a ditzy wannabe actress who gets felt up by Marquette and Paul Dano) as the love interest ("Buttercup") to a group of reluctant male extras, all of whom think they are starring in hetero porn. One of them is a portly middle-aged man dressed up as a barbarian/warrior type who wields a sword in the defeat of virginity, and this provides a few guilty chuckles. But the main reason to enjoy this is to simply bask further in the larger-than-life ego of Marquette's crazy supporting character, who demands action for both himself and his movies.
A gag reel runs a brief 2:47 and contains mostly laughter-ruined takes and flubbed stunts. Chris Marquette once again gets all the laughs with his alternate takes on one of the film's best lines ("If you don't f*ck her, I'll f*ck you, buddy!"). There's also a total of 16 deleted/extended scenes which total 11 minutes and contain optional commentary by Luke Greenfield. All of the footage is presented in music-free rough cut format, and a lot of it was cut for timing, as Luke mourns the loss over most clips he enjoyed (such as extended shots of Eli telling Matthew he should have sex with Danielle) and most scenes he thought were vital to the film but were turned down by test audiences, such as an extended early version of the sex scene in the limo many felt was "too real." There's some other scenes Luke was uncomfortable with, as when we see Kelly actually beating upon Matthew with closed fists, but then there's also the instance with the original ending of the film, where Matt finally becomes who he wanted to despite the final clip is a very unsatisfactory way to go. Still, a lot of these scenes are fairly small extensions or leftovers, such as additional footage of the "sex education" video and the original opening to the diner sequence.
The still gallery contains 40 production/shooting photos, and we are also presented with the "diRRRty" trailer for THE GIRL NEXT DOOR, which is in actuality a very tame green-band advertisement which I do remember played at theaters without even so much as a single objectionable moment. There are "uncut" and hard-R trailers for this one which were at once available on the media section in this movie's Rotten Tomatoes website page, but all you see is the basic theatrical trailer. Bonus trailers for There's Something MORE About Mary and the unrated DVD of Broken Lizard's Club Dread (which is available September 28 despite the promo says it's available NOW!), as well as a simple combined promo reel for three other Fox DVD releases are also featured. Finally, you can access one hidden menu feature from the main menu by pushing the right arrow key whilst highlighting the gag reel insignia. It has nothing to do with the movie, but it's a kick nonetheless.
The movie is not exactly a five-star title (in fact, I give it in hindsight a 4.5 rounded off to a 5), but I still highly recommend THE GIRL NEXT DOOR wholeheartedly, with this unrated DVD version providing enough juice worth the squeeze if you can grab it.