The Girl Next Door is like a Weird Science for the Noughties – a titillating fantasy aimed squarely at teenage boys. It is then, I suppose, a mark of some progress that at least in this film the female fantasy figure is a human being with her own problems and desires, rather than a computer program. It’s not much of a recommendation though, and The Girl Next Door isn’t much of a film.
Emile Hirsch plays Matthew, the school square who dreams of becoming the next JFK. Matthew’s life is dedicated to getting a scholarship to Georgetown University, and hanging out with Eli the porn freak (Chris Marquette) and Klitz the nerd (Paul Dano). Everything’s going to plan, until Danielle (Elisha Cuthbert) moves in next door. She’s the girl of his dreams apart from one detail – she’s a famous porn star. As their relationship develops, and Matthew tries to rescue her, he gets dragged into a seedy, ruthless world.
It’s a fun premise, and the writers come up with some very funny scenes, such as when Matthew has visions of Danielle having sex with his parents after finding out about her past. Earlier on, he berates Eli for, erm, “enjoying” porn while they chat on the phone.
Yet the film’s confused attitude towards pornography is one of the things that lets it down. The majority of the film deals with Matthew’s attempts to help Danielle leave the adult industry, as she’s too good to waste her life in such a degrading business. It’s a fair point; porn is a deeply unpleasant industry, but it seems hypocritical and self-defeating to preach this way in a film that’s pretty close to soft porn itself.
It’s a film that takes itself too seriously in other respects too. At various points, the film shifts in tone, feeling more like a thriller than a light comedy. These scenes, such as when Matthew has visions of a graphic car crash, really jar, as they’re completely inappropriate for the material, and shot with enough flair to be genuinely shocking.
The Girl Next Door will probably find an audience, as its premise is the stuff of fantasy, and the film is funny and graphic enough to generate word of mouth amongst its target audience. Hirsch and Cuthbert give reasonable performances, and Greenfield is clearly a talented director, but the script is too confused to make this as satisfying as Weird Science.
Near the end of the film, Matthew explains how his journey has led him to truly discover the meaning of moral fibre, namely finding the courage to do whatever it takes to get what you want. Surely, even in today’s America, this is a bizarre definition of moral fibre?