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ISSUE
  Thursday
171
  April 8
2004
c o n t e n t s
 
 

Reviving Royal Sin: Strong Performances Bring 'The Duchess of Malfi' to Life

Utah Ballet Focuses on What's Best
Parker Played it Rite
 

Remember Thornton, Forget 'The Alamo
'

Take a Peep at 'The Girl Next Door'
 
 
 

 theReel
 
Take a Peep at 'The Girl Next Door'
 
by Jeremy Mathews

“The Girl Next Door”
20th Century Fox
Directed by Luke Greenfield
Written by Stuart Blumberg, David T. Wagner and Brent Goldberg
Produced by Charles Gordon, Harry Gittes and Marc Stemberg
Starring Emile Hirsch, Elisha Cuthbert, Timothy Olyphant, James Remar, Chris Marquette, Paul Dano, Timothy Bottoms, Donna Bullock, Jacob Young, Brian Kolodziej, Brandon Iron, Amanda Swisten, Sung Hi Lee and Ulysses Lee

Rated R

(out of four)

One of the sweetest teen comedies in recent years casts its leading lady as a porn star. You could take this as a sign of the current content in teen comedies, or just accept that “The Girl Next Door” is a fun throwback to the spirited John Hughes films of the 1980s.

Matthew (Emile Hirsch) is the kind of kid who didn’t win the election for class president because he’s popular, but because no one popular ran. He attends a bland high school with bland pep rallies and obnoxious students. His big project as president has been to raise money to bring a foreign young genius to study with better facilities in his school, but the other kids only cheer for the effort because they think that the video footage of the boy is funny.

Matthew fears ending high school on his current experience-void life, but can’t muster up the nerve to skip school like the popular kids. When he does decide to leave, much to his motionless friend’s chagrin, he has a wonderfully deranged vision.

This all changes when the beautiful and sexy Danielle (Elisha Cuthbert) moves in next door and soon turns out to also be smart and funny.

At night, she spots him glancing at her through the window while she disrobes, and retaliates by coming over to his house. But she doesn’t tell his parents what happened. Instead, she asks him to show her around town, then reveals another surprise in a challenge that defies standard flirting. The scene in which she comes over to the house is cleverly shot, so as to create the same anxiety Matthew feels when Danielle sees him.

In the tradition of high school movie friends, Matthew has two buddies on opposite sides of the uncool spectrum. Eli (Chris Marquette) has an unhealthy obsession with porn—an obsession that compels him to watch it with his friend, the nerdy Klitz (Paul Dano). Marquette delivers amusingly obscene lines about his love for porn and dreams of sex. His character has already decided that there could be no better future on this earth than a job in the porn industry.

Eli’s porn expertise leads him to realize that Danielle was a porn actress. He gives horrible advice to Matthew, resulting in a breakup and reunion than would normally muddle the end of a film. And the scholarship presentation that Matthew keeps preparing for doesn’t come at the end of the film, as convention would dictate, but in the middle. This results in some awkward pacing from director Luke Greenfield, but it’s forgivable because where most films would stop, this one keeps exploring.

Screenwriters Stuart Blumberg, David T. Wagner and Brent Goldberg certainly resort to some stock tricks, like the old unknowingly-taking-drugs bit. But more often, they put in clever lines and sight gags, including a hallucinatory scene with Danielle and Matthew’s parents after he finds out that she’s a porn star, and a trick Danielle and Matthew play to make Eli briefly think he’s actually in porn.

A strong supporting cast also keeps the film lively.

Timothy Olyphant almost steals the whole film with his supporting role as Danielle’s former porn boss, Kelly. At once cool, sleazy, demanding and flattering, he leaves the characters and audience unsure of how good or bad a guy he is, creating a comic tension that flows through the whole film.

This tension embodies “The Girl Next Door,” as the characters finally leave their bland suburban high school for a new world that’s exciting, scary and funny, alternately and simultaneously.
jeremy@red-mag.com

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