I was pleasantly shocked by how much I enjoyed watching The Girl Next Door. I wanted to see it because I’m fascinated by the screwed-up ways American culture deals with sex, so I was curious to see how the story of a porn star moving next to an all-American boy was handled.
The answer was, surprisingly sweetly. The movie starts as the story of a geek — a student body president who does nothing but study — wanting to have some fun before graduation, kind of a male She’s All That. Then it turns into a teen love story, one of those where his devotion overcomes the obstacles keeping them apart, before winding up as a new-millennium Risky Business.
It was refreshing to see that the sex wasn’t a huge part of the movie. He never freaks out about the idea that his girlfriend has performed on film with lots of men, and he wants to be with her more than he wants to have sex with her. In fact, the one time he believes in popular stereotypes it goes very badly, providing the first major conflict of the movie. I was also tickled to see that he gets naked more than she does.
The film was full of people I’d never seen before, with a few exceptions. Elisha Cuthbert has the acting ability and personality of a hood ornament, but she’s wholesomely sexy and smiles at him well, which is all that’s needed. She’s more of a quest object in his story anyway.
There were two characters that had me asking “where have I seen them before?” most of the film. One was the porn-obsessed best friend, Chris Marquette, who’s the boyfriend on Joan of Arcadia, and the other was the wild-living producer, Timothy Olyphant, and I’m still not sure where I’m recognizing him from.
Emile Hirsh is the lead, a dedicated kid who wants to be JFK (and has the looks to prove it). I’d never seen him before, and probably won’t again anytime soon, which is a shame, because he did a good job with the frequent scenes where he was asked to turn over-his-head befuddlement into determination and courage. He’s also quite nice to look at for two hours, as well as resembling a real student in age.
I liked the way that this had the feel of a classic John Hughes film, although one where the lead’s whole life didn’t revolve around school. While working within a formula, it’s not as predictable in the details as I feared. Worth the rental, plus a great soundtrack.