THE GIRL NEXT DOOR (2004)
Starring Emile Hirsch, Elisha Cuthbert, Timothy Olyphant, James Remar, Chris Marquette, Paul Dano, Timothy Bottoms, Donna Bullock, Jacob Young, Brian Kolodziej, Brandon Irons, Amanda Swisten, Sung Hi Lee, Ulysses Lee, Harris Laskawy, Julie Osburn, Laird Stuart, Dane A. Garretson and Richard Fancy.
Screenplay by Stuart Blumberg and David T. Wagner & Brent Goldberg.
Directed by Luke Greenfield.
Distributed by Twentieth Century Fox. 94 minutes. Rated R.
A shy, clean-cut honors student who is worried about getting into the college of his choice meets a woman who works as a sex professional. At first he is shy and afraid to get involved with her, but he is goaded on by his two best friends, one a sex-obsessed slob and the other an uptight nerd. She teaches him the ways of love and sex. He teaches her to respect herself and that she is better than her work. Problems arise when he meets a criminal from her past who does not want to let her out of the world of sex for sale. His big chance to get into the college is further complicated by the relationship. Eventually, she gets some of her adult work friends to help him make some money with his high school friends. All of this happens right under the noses of his rich, thickheaded parents.
I suppose if you are going to base your film on a teen sex comedy of the 80s, you can’t do too much better than emulating Risky Business.
Emile Hirsch plays Matthew, the Tom Cruise role here, and he is very likable. This film will not be a breakthrough role for him like the original was for Cruise, but I hope it does open up more opportunities for him. Elisha Cuthbert plays Danielle, the Rebecca DeMornay role of the worldly older woman stuck in the sex trade, but looking for a way out. Timothy Olyphant is actually terrific as Kelly the criminal porn producer… his is the only role that actually improves on the original’s Joe Pantoliano as Guido the killer pimp. Chris Marquette (from Joan of Arcadia) is funny in the Curtis Armstrong role of slob buddy, Paul Dano is perfectly fine as a redo of Bronson Pinchot’s uptight loser buddy.
This film is blatant about its borrowing. Even little plot points derive directly from the source material. Both films have scenes in which the male lead drives a Porsche. The music is similar, with much of The Girl Next Door‘s score emulating Tangerine Dream’s moody synth score for the older film, and both films include a snippet of Muddy Water’s blues classic “Mannish Boy.”
Oh, sure, they do change things up a bit. The girl is a porn star instead of a hooker. The boy wants to go to Georgetown instead of Yale. His parents aren’t out of town for much of the movie. The Porsche doesn’t end up underwater. As far as I remember, Hirsch never wears Ray-Bans. The film does have an inevitable prom scene towards the end which does not borrow from Risky Business, but pretty much every other high school comedy (or drama) ever.
However, the question remains, if you are going to try to revamp a movie that was perfectly good on its own, shouldn’t you add a little something to the equation? Shouldn’t you even just try to come close to being as good as the source material? In these ways, The Girl Next Door falls way short.
It is a shame, because I do like the cast and they much deserve better than this. Hirsch is charming in his role, but you do find it a little hard to root for Matthew though, because he really does seem like a spoiled kid who expects everything in the world to be handed to him. Matthew keeps insisting that he can’t afford to go to Georgetown without a scholarship. Frankly, living in a gorgeous sprawling suburban home like he has with his parents, you have to agree that the nerdy science geek and Latina girl who are his biggest competition for the scholarship are probably much more deserving of the scholarship than he is.
Cuthbert does the best she possibly can in her role, but Danielle is not a character, she is just a plot device. She only exists to be the dream lover for Matthew or to be abused by her former porn producer. There is not one thing that the character does that is for herself. She is simply there to be at the whim of the men in her life. So, no matter how attractive or likable Cuthbert is, we can’t really worry about what happens to Danielle, because she does not seem to care enough to live her own life. At least she never gets caught in a bear trap like she did last season in her day job as Kim Bauer on the series 24.
Like I said earlier, Timothy Olyphant steals most scenes he appears in as Kelly the porn producer. He may be a bad guy, but he is passionate, he is charming, he is determined, he is a user and he is Machiavellian in his plans. Part of the problem with this film is that Matthew’s relationship with Kelly is much more interesting than his relationship with Danielle. It gets to the point where we want to see more of the two guys and just get rid of the girl. Olyphant is able to pull this off by the sheer force of his personality, even though the writing keeps letting him down. For example, they are obviously trying for catch-phrase status for the line “Was the juice worth the squeeze?,” making Olyphant say it a few times and later having Kirsch say it and write out a variation. However, honestly it’s just a really weak line that has no chance of catching on.
All through the film, Matthew is trying to keep everything from his obtuse parents. His father is played by Timothy Bottoms, who is a long, long way from his own days of playing a student in the movies, particularly starring in the classic 1973 drama The Paper Chase. Bottoms is given nothing to do here, just be a dad and look on with either disappointment or pride depending on the situation. However, his presence here got me to thinking about how much movies have changed in the past thirty years. In The Paper Chase, Bottoms’ character of James Hart broke into the Harvard Law Library to sneak a peek at his law professor’s student notebooks. In The Girl Next Door, the character of his son breaks into the high school library to film a porn film. I’m not sure exactly what this says about the changes in modern cinema and society, but I don’t think it’s probably a good thing. (4/04)
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2004 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: April 11, 2004.