By Amy Nicholson
By LA Weekly critics
By Zachary Pincus-Roth
By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
By Amanda Lewis
By Amy Nicholson
By Anthony D'Alessandro
From Shakespeare (William) to Schwartz (Josh), popular dramatists can’t resist prying open the chest of tempestuous teenage emotions and fiddling around. (I even once saw some Egyptian hieroglyphics that told a story of young people not quite fitting in, feeling trapped and having parents who just don’t understand.)
In Luke Greenfield’s winning The Girl Next Door, the patient is Matthew Kidman (Emile Hirsch), a compulsive overachiever priming himself for a Georgetown scholarship that’s to be awarded to “the brightest leader of tomorrow.” And when it seems, early on in the film, as though Matthew is finally going to break with tradition, skip school for a day and head to the beach with all the “cool” kids, he quickly snaps out of the daydream and back into that overachiever’s prison of slide projectors, dog-eared textbooks and pop quizzes.
Taken from a very knowing script by Stuart Blumberg, David T. Wagner and Brent Goldberg, The Girl Next Door is about how even (or especially) the good kids — the sheltered, rule-obeying, emasculated apples of their parents’ eyes — yearn for a walk on the wild side. For Matthew, that comes in the form of the title character (Elisha Cuthbert), a beautiful blond who shows up, as if cast down from the heavens, in the window directly opposite his bedroom. When she catches him spying, he’s sure he’s blown what fraction of a chance he might have had with her. Instead, she merely shows up on his doorstep and asks him if he’d like to go for a ride. Her name is Danielle, and she’s house-sitting for her vacationing aunt. She also happens to be a famous porn star, though Matthew, so awestruck to be receiving her attentions, doesn’t realize it. Danielle is delighted, for the first time in a long time, to be in the company of a man who isn’t only interested in her boobies.
Eventually, The Girl Next Door becomes something of a screwball caper full of skinny-dipping excursions in strangers’ backyard pools, impromptu road trips to Las Vegas “adult film” conventions and a host of flamboyantly colorful characters. The most memorable of these, Danielle’s conniving ex-producer Kelly, is played by Timothy Olyphant with a foxiness that recalls the young Jack Nicholson. But what gives The Girl Next Door its unexpected weight is the depth of feeling both Hirsch (who was excellent in The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys and The Emperor’s Club) and Cuthbert (24) bring to their characterizations. Long before Matthew discovers the nature of Danielle’s vocation, just being on her arm makes him feel like a new person — it gives him that sense of being comfortable in his own skin he’s been searching for ever since his voice broke — and when Hirsch plays these scenes, he positively beams. Cuthbert has astonishing curves and dark, penetrating eyes that look straight through you, but can seem by turns as fragile and uncertain as an unfinished sculpture. It’s a star-making turn.
The Girl Next Door has some awkward passages — the Las Vegas scenes lack the same charm and zing of the rest, and there’s an expendable subplot about Matthew’s efforts to help a brilliant Cambodian teenager emigrate to America — but the movie’s big-hearted charm (and its unusual sexual frankness) carries it through. We’re a world away here from the crass (if not unenjoyable) slapstick antics of the American Pie series and closer to a sensitivity and nostalgia for all things awkwardly adolescent reminiscent of Cameron Crowe. (Greenfield and his music supervisors have even cooked up a terrific pop soundtrack to further the comparison.) The point of the film isn’t just that nice boys have raging libidos too, but that sex is a powerful currency that can shape a person’s emotional character. Curiously, before directing The Girl Next Door, Greenfield made a series of short films that ultimately landed him a gig directing Rob Schneider’s atrocious The Animal. Around that time, I’d heard that Greenfield himself regarded this debacle as a necessary evil on the road to making movies that “mattered” to him — which, I must admit, I regarded as exactly the sort of bullshit defense spouted all the time by Hollywood hacks-in-training. Now, though, Greenfield has gone and done what seems almost unthinkable by the standards of today’s young Hollywood: He’s gone and made one from the heart.
Far from The Girl Next Door’s Anytown, USA, Dagur Kári’s Nói uses its setting as a nearly perfect metaphor for the blizzard of disorienatation that is adolescence: It takes place on a remote Icelandic fjord where you have to shovel snow away from your bedroom window every morning just to see if it’s still snowing outside. Invariably, it is. But the story, however, is not so very different from the American one.
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