Monday, April 12, 2004
My friend Megan tells me that the rated-R teen formula comedy I saw tonight, "The Girl Next Door," is being billed in TV ads as the movie for "the next generation." Apparently, that could be more clearly defined as "the generation that grew up with porn in mainstream culture."
When I was in junior high, I was lucky to glimpse naked women by sneaking peeks at my dad's Playboy collection. These days, you can get pornography for free on the internet. VH-1, MTV and the E! Network all have shows based on, or starring porn stars. Hell, "The Surreal Life" has Ron Jeremy carousing around with and getting sympathy from no less a conservative than Tammy Faye!
"The Girl Next Door" is a movie full of contradictions that plays like a bad "The Sure Thing" melded uncomfortably together with an exploitative "Risky Business." Danielle (Elisha Cuthbert), the young ex-porn star trying to start over, is making sweet goo-goo eyes at high school overachiever Matthew (Emile Hirsch) one minute. It's a sweet and precious moment. After discovering her identity in the next scene, his obnoxious porn-obsessed friend is screaming outside a crowded school yard ("You have to fuck her, man! Fuck her for me!").
The premise of this unconvincing love story is that Matthew loves Danielle for reasons that nobody else who knew her as a porn star could. But this holds absolutely no truth, since the whole reason he fell for her in the first place is that she is incredibly hot and way out of his league. Just like a porn star. We are supposed to overlook this fact during a montage in which the two are shown bonding by listening to headphones and gazing at each other. It is merely a quick way to give you the idea that a relationship exists between the two, so they can immediately put that "relationship" in jeopardy.
Emile Hirsch plays a high schooler who befriends an ex-adult film star (Elisha Cuthbert) after she moves into his neighborhood. Then her vicious former producer (Timothy Olyphant) shows up wanting to drag her back into the biz. Hey, this is pretty much "Risky Business" ... only its less subtle and not quite as funny.
The film then asks you to forgive the lack of chemistry between Matt and Danielle, and immediately moves forward with the porn part of the story. And, although the movie is on shaky ground at this point, it actually picks up a little from there. By the time Matt and his buddies storm into an adult film conference in Las Vegas, I was desperate for some laughs. But who doesn't get a kick out of seeing the nerdy guys hanging out with beautiful porn queens? We get more of this element toward the end, and that's all we get.
Timothy Olyphant, the bad guy, essentially plays the Joe Pantoliano pimp character from "Risky Business" with a smirk that lets on that he's not taking himself too seriously. And about midway through "The Girl Next Door," neither should the audience. The story doesn't make a lick of sense and hits all the usual mile-markers on its way to a happy ending.
During the closing credits, "The Girl Next Door" is billed as "A Luke Greenfield Film." This is something usually reserved for the filmmaker who considers himself an auteur, not the director of Rob Schneider's "The Animal." The only stylistically different thing I got out of "The Girl Next Door" was that it overlooked the usual teen movie crap rock soundtrack choices in favor of more diverse fare. Instead of the standard Limp Bizkit-Fuel-Nickelback-Saliva-Evanescence butt rock you usually get in these cheesy teen sex comedies, we are actually treated to some pretty great tunes.
The opening sequence is scored with "Under Pressure" by Queen and David Bowie. A quiet scene throws in some Elliott Smith. There's also Echo & the Bunnymen, Thunderclap Newman, Sloan, Red House Painters, Donovan, Harry Nilsson and Muddy Waters. For the last big scene, no less a classic than "Baba O'Rielly" by The Who is used. It's just plain weird. Of course, very few of these songs actually appear on the soundtrack CD you can buy in stores.
If "The Girl Next Door" proves anything, it's that you can fill a dumb mainstream teen comedy full of good music, and keep somebody like me interested enough to at least wonder what song they'll play next. I was giving "The Girl Next Door" one and a half stars, but it gets an extra half for the great tunes.