Holy cow! It’s a smart, snappy teen comedy that takes its cues not from Porky’s, but from Risky Business. In fact, you could almost call this Risky Business Lite. With a well-shot and directed screenplay, coupled with a refreshingly matter-of-fact attitude towards sex and captivating performances from the three charismatic lead players, The Girl Next Door is an edgy little treat.
Elisha Cuthbert in ‘The Girl Next Door’
Just as Risky Business is viewed as the film that launched Tom Cruise into orbit, The Girl Next Door will likely be noted someday as the big break for Emile Hirsch, a bright-eyed young actor brimming over with that elusive combination of qualities that make a star. Watch and listen to this guy and you’ll know what I mean. Leading lady Elisha Cuthbert is already known for her work in the TV series 24, but her vivacious, layered work here should boost her to the next level of the Hollywood pecking order. And Timothy Olyphant, who has a number of fine character roles under his belt, should also enjoy an upswing as a result of his bracing turn here as an erudite thug. High school senior Matthew Kidman (Hirsch) is a parent’s dream. His hero is JFK, he plans a career in politics (OK, maybe some parents might blanch at that), he’s president of the student council and he’s helped raise $25,000 to bring Samnang (Ulysses Lee), a teen-age mathematical genius, from his jungle village in Cambodia to the suburbs of America. In order to be able to attend the college of his choice, Matthew focuses his time not on the upcoming prom, but on preparing a speech about moral fiber for a contest that offers a scholarship to the winner. And then he sees the new girl next door. Danielle (Cuthbert), house-sitting for her aunt after quitting her job to “start over,” is the most beautiful woman Matthew has ever seen. Sparks fly. He is drawn to her beauty and her adventurous “Just go with it” philosophy. She is drawn to his beauty and his earnestness. Romance blooms, and then Matthew’s chronically unlaid buddy Eli (Chris Marquette of Joan of Arcadia) races up to announce that Danielle, under the name Athena, is a porn star. Thanks and a tip o’ the hat to writers Stuart Blumberg, David T. Wagner and Brent Goldberg for not portraying Danielle as a fallen woman. Rather than bow to the currently prominent conservative moral hysteria, sex is presented here as a good thing, and porn as simply one more part, albeit a freaky one, of the great American dream. Nothing goes simply after the revelation. Athena is a hot property and Kelly (Olyphant), her wild-haired, hot-tempered, extremely well-spoken ex-boyfriend and manager, wants Danielle to come back to work. So does his boss, porn magnate Hugo Posh (James Remar). Danielle holds her ground, with Matthew providing support, while Kelly tries to woo her back. The war of wills escalates and things get crazy, with Matthew in the mouth of the madness. Director Luke Greenfield (The Animal) deftly blends upper middle class social conventions with the chintzy glitz of the porn world (he merely skirts the dangerous side of the trade, which is enough), working in a few effective fantasy scenes. Expected plot points — the prom, the big speech, the parental reactions —are given nice tweaks and, aside from proclaiming that “sex is a good thing” (a fairly radical notion in these constipated times), the only message in the comedy is “be yourself.” While the movie belongs to Emile Hirsch, Elisha Cuthbert and Timothy Olyphant, the supporting players are all fine, particularly Chris Marquette and mop-topped Paul Dano as Eli and Klitz, Matthew’s pals and co-conspirators. James Remar is effectively smarmy as the porn king and, as Matthew’s father, Timothy Bottoms manages to remain lovingly clueless for most of the film. One final note about The Girl Next Door. You know the gross-out scenes that pop up in sexually-themed films aimed at a younger audience? Not a one here. Not one.