Girl Next Door

Year: 2004
Production Co: Regency Enterprises
Director: Luke Greenfield
Writer: David T Wagner/Brent Goldberg/Stuart Blumberg
Cast: Elisha Cuthbert, Emile Hirsch, Timothy Olyphant, James Remar, Paul Dano
A young man about to graduate from high school in middle America leads a promising but boring life. A beautiful young woman moves in next door with whom he becomes hopelessly infatuated. Then, one of his nerdy, hypersexed friends discovers that she's a porno film actress.

Sounds like the perfect recipe for a movie to avoid at all costs. Think of the worst jokes from the American Pie films with the dialogue of a thousand straight to video Porky's rip offs. Cross it with the get-laid-at-all-costs plots of everything from Revenge of the Nerds to Eurotrip, throw in a couple of unknown actors and release it at the end of the US summer movie season when all the kids are going back to school and have no pocket money left. An image of the Titanic heading for an iceberg springs to mind...

Instead, Girl Next Door might be one of the biggest surprises you get at the movies all year. It's got more in common with Alexander Payne's biting 1999 satire of school politics, Election, than a whole graduating class of teen sex comedies.

For starters, the concerns of the average teenager in an American movie are - if done right - quite funny. It's stuff we all think about when we're 18, and it's part of life, so it does belong in a comedy about teenagers (particularly one about a porn actress moving in next door).

But Girl Next Door doesn't club you between the eyes with it like you're as stupid as the characters. Sure, the hero's stereotypical misfit friends provide for the oversupply of hormones, but in a world where every film about stupid kids is supposed to have heart (you know - like when the hero shags the girl who doesn't look like a $1,000 a night escort), Girl Next Door leaves the rest in the dust.

It triumphs merely because - for a movie for teenagers about teenagers - it doesn't forget that it's at times crushing being a teenager, some things are serious to teenagers, and love is a worthy goal and not just an excuse to show the latest Hollywood starlet undressed.

The seriousness sits comfortably beside the laugh-out-loud humour thanks to several elements; a well planned and fitting musical score that features more than just the current top 40, a sensitive and likeable performance by unknown lead Hirsch, and moments where everything from the performances to the camerawork conveys emotion instead of just tits.

Starting out like every 18 year old's fantasy, Matt quickly falls for the urbane confidence and beauty of Danielle when she movies in next door. When it turns out she's a former porn actress trying to start her life over, he's hurt and betrayed by it. Sure, the fantasy is that life would be an endless haze of unremitting and fantastic sex, but Girl Next Door's other winning move is to be real in a genre drunk on adolescent fantasy.

For her part, Danielle is just as crushed - thinking her newly discovered innocence is tainted forever. But more characters and subplots join a seemingly simple fray and give Girl Next Door its third and biggest coup de grace, something almost unheard of in the comedy genre - a story!

You don't know how things are going to end up, and while some directions the story takes are a little dysfunctional, it's enough of a pleasure just finding out what happens to Matt and Danielle, no matter how sure you are everything will turn out okay for them.

Matt's friends Eli and Klitz (yes, you read that right) play the American Pie / Porky's / Dude, Where's My Car? contingent with more eagerness and humour than many of their contemporaries have managed, but it's Timothy Olyphant as Danielle's charismatic and slightly unhinged former manager who steals the show. You never know where he's going to end up, what he's going to do, or how he's going to affect the outcome.

If you hate the average teen comedy - even the better ones - you might not be as impressed with Girl Next Door as most critics have been. And it might be a case of the film tricking audiences into thinking it's good just because it's the best of a bad bunch. But any movie that portrays high school-aged kids as being more than two legged sperm banks is a start.

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