Before tackling the actual merits of The Girl Next Door, I’d like to pose a question: Who, exactly, is the target audience here? It’s not so much the material itself that makes me ask, but the movie’s pop-rock soundtrack.
Presumably, this film is aimed at audiences just barely old enough to qualify for admittance to an R-rated film — yet the first song heard is the 1980 David Bowie-Queen hit “Under Pressure.” Thematically, it’s a good choice for what’s taking place onscreen; still, it’s probably not a song in too many CD players among the 17-to-24-year-old set. That goes even more so for later tracks — Thunderclap Newman’s “Something in the Air” (1969) and Harry Nilsson’s “Jump Into the Fire” (1971) aren’t well known outside of classic rock circles. To top it off, the film concludes with The Who’s “Baba O’Reilly” (also 1971).
I have nothing against these songs being in the film (I certainly relate to them more than I would to much in the way of newer music), but they seem odd choices. Perhaps they simply express the tastes and interests of the filmmakers — in which case, there’s more to director Luke Greenfield than I’d have ever thought based on The Animal, or to screenwriters Brent Goldberg and David Wagner (in light of Van Wilder, My Baby’s Daddy and Saving Ryan’s Privates). On the other hand, the soundtrack may simply be some kind of retro-hipness born of the movie’s own somewhat elderly underpinnings.
On paper, the idea of a 17-to-18-year-old falling for the porn star who moves in next door probably looked really daring (at least to people who never saw Tadpole, which crossed many more taboos than Girl ever does). The resulting film, however, is essentially a reworking of Risky Business, with the porn star standing in for the traditional hooker-with-the-heart-of-gold (herself a concept as old as the movies).
The pleasant surprise here is Girl‘s certain good-natured sense of fun, its consistently likable performers and its screenplay blessed with enough improbable convolutions to keep the basic retread entertaining. Is the movie as morally objectionable as some critics have claimed? Probably so — provided that you take it with a seriousness I doubt the film intended.
Let’s get real here: This is a teen comedy, not a weighty contribution to culture. In that light, Girl is a good deal funnier, more clever and better done than most such offerings. Its successes are in part because the film actually captures some sense of the pressures of being a teenager (even with the romanticized characterization of the porn star to one side).
The movie may not be concerned with realism, but Matthew Kidman (Emile Hirsch, The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys) and his friends Eli (Chris Marquette, Freddy Vs. Jason) and the improbably named Klitz (Paul Dano, The Emperor’s Club) ring surprisingly true in a way rarely seen in this type of film. The rest of Girl may be little more than fantasy, but this aspect isn’t.
And even the fantasy has its appeal. It’s rare in teen comedies to find a genuinely menacing character, but the amoral, possibly psychotic and certainly dangerous porn producer played by Timothy Olyphant (Dreamcatcher) is indeed menacing — not in the least because there’s also something unsettlingly appealing about his character. For that matter, Elisha Cuthbert (Love Actually) as the porn star may not be believable, but she has an undeniable warmth and screen presence.
It’s warmth that finally sets Girl apart from most such films; the characters are all likable in their way and the jokes rarely lean toward the usual formula (based on humiliation). The film doesn’t even offer cruel comeuppances for its belligerent jocks, and that alone is a pleasant change.
No, this is no great movie masquerading as a teenage comedy. It is, however, considerably better than most others of its ilk.
– reviewed by Ken Hanke