The Girl Next Door Review
Luke Greenfield's The Girl Next Door is a conventional romantic comedy that isn't conventional. Sure, it hits all the beats you'd expect from a 90s Sandra Bullock film; boy and girl meet, fall in love, are split apart and wind up together again in a grandiose final scene. For the most part, that all happens here. At the same time though, how The Girl Next Door gets there is an entirely different animal. Working with a subject matter not too often seen in the rom com genre and making the film more about the romance, Greenfield created a story that works as both a precursor to the Apatow films of the late 00's and a successor to the raunchy teen films of the late 90's, early 00's. All that proves to make The Girl Next Door a funny, sweet and interesting film, a cult comedy with both porn and a heart. Looks like we don't need to wonder what inspired Joseph Gordon Levitt to make Don Jon anymore.
Matthew Kidman (Emile Hirsch) is an intelligent high school senior with a future of unlimited potential. But despite his plans to go to Georgetown and his ambitious plans to bring the next Einstein to America, his social life isn't that interesting. Enter Danielle (Elisha Cuthbert), the beautiful girl who has just moved in next door. The two quickly fall for each other and Matthew slowly starts to come out of his shell. But when his sex obsessed friend Eli (Chris Marquette) discovers that Danielle used to be a porn star, Matthew becomes overwhelmed and breaks it off. Quickly realizing that he's a fool, Matthew does everything he can to win Danielle back, leading him, Eli and their friend Klitz (Paul Dano) into the world of porn, which includes everyone from Danielle's ex/director (Timothy Olyphant) and the Donald Trump of porn (James Remar). As per usual, hilarity ensues.
Created by David T. Warner and Brent Goldberg, The Girl Next Door somehow went through five writers before becoming a finished project, including drafts from the creators, Academy Award nominee Stuart Blumberg (The Kids Are Alright), Greenfield and Community writer Chris McKenna. For me, a film normally works best when there's only one or two writers, maybe three. Four or more tends to mean there are too many voices in the room, which tends to pull the film in too many directions. With The Girl Next Door however, the film is as coherent and clear as possible, despite all the different writers. Credit goes to Greenfield to that; the director seemed to know which aspects of the story seemed to click, and managed to work them well into the rom com conventions he was playing with. It's not flashy in any way, but it works.
Story wise, Greenfield is working with a far different approach than he would in the more standard, average follow up he made in Something Borrowed. The film is very much like Risky Business in the sense that it takes an overachieving protagonist, sticks him with an unconventional love interest (prostitute, porn star) and watches them both grow. That helps to make The Girl Next Door a quasi coming of age story on top of its rom com DNA. Best yet, in a bit of a role reversal, it's the male character that needs the female character, as opposed to the opposite. Danielle isn't the sort of Manic Pixie Girl you see in other films of this nature. She's not an idea meant to complete the male, and she's not someone who needs to end up with Matthew. Certainly she's not complaining, but I get the feeling she would've been fine if he had remained close minded about who she used to be. I liked that touch. Also effective is how Greenfield plays with his conventions. The film may follow the rom com blueprint, but it doesn't entirely play by the rules. We know long before the end that the couple will end up together, and the suspense in the third act focuses more on the two breaking away from the world of porn they've been sucked into.
The most important aspect of a romantic comedy is the chemistry between the leads. Emile Hirsch and Elisha Cuthbert are overflowing with chemistry. From the moment they lock eyes, you can instantly buy a connection between the two, and it never lets up. Equally impressive is how the two are on their own. Hirsch, eighteen years old at the time, displays a lot of the ability that has made him one of the most underrated performers in Hollywood today. Matthew is the image of likability; the audience never stops rooting for him to succeed, and remains invested in his journey from social outcast to fully fledged young man. Cuthbert meanwhile exudes the confidence of a star in every scene she's in, turning what could've been a throwaway love interest/hot girl role into a three dimensional character. I'm stunned this film didn't open the same doors for her that they did for Hirsch. Between her this film, 24 (despite the cougar) and the hilarious Happy Endings, there's no reason Cuthbert isn't more famous than she is.
The supporting cast is equally game, and littered with well known names and future stars. Paul Dano, perhaps the most famous of the cast these days, is almost unrecognizable as the awkward Klitz, serving as an even more awkward and introverted young man than Hirsch's Matthew is. Chris Marquette's Eli (inspired supposedly by director/actor Eli Roth) provides most of the films vulgarity and sex obsessed humor. James Remar is hilarious as the creepiest porn producer in the history of the western hemisphere. And to the surprise of no one, veteran actor Timothy Olyphant steals scenes as Danielle's ex boyfriend/porn director Kelly. Looking like a walk on from Sid and Nancy, Olyphant doesn't hesitate to cut loose, making Kelly a quasi sensei who can easily fill the villain role if needs be. He may not be as creepy as Remar, but he's close, and he never stops being a delight. Cameo fans can enjoy a quick glance of a young Olivia Wilde, while wrestling fans will be shocked to see Luther Reigns even more than they're shocked that they remembered who he is!
It's a shame so many people are dismissive of some of the vulgar romantic comedies that litter the post American Pie/pre Apatow eras. Several of those films, like Eurotrip, Can't Hardly Wait and others have a lot to offer, whether it's via storytelling or laughs. The Girl Next Door is perhaps the best of the bunch. It's by no means Citizen Kane or even Mad Max: Fury Road, but as far the genre goes, you can't do much better than Greenfield's effort. It's well acted, well written and a film that breaks conventions while also making sure to hit all the right spots. It's a shame Greenfield hasn't gone back to films of this nature, for I think he could carve out a nice career making different, exciting rom coms. For now, The Girl Next Door represents his best work to date. It's the cult film you can watch with your girlfriend or boyfriend.