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The Girl Next Door

It's a pretty old story. Boy watches girl take off her clothes through her bedroom window. Girl catches boy watching girl. Girl takes boy out for drive and they fall in love. Oh, yeah, and girl turns out to be a porn star trying to start over.

When you enter the realm of the teen sex comedy, you have to give over to fantasy on some level. And despite some alleged pretensions otherwise, The Girl Next Door is really just an amped-up teen sex comedy. As such, it takes its fantasy elements pretty far, coming very close to popping the delicate bubble of belief. Preposterous, morally conflicting (and conflicted) but strangely sweet, The Girl Next Door is undeniably funny.

The fantasy element seems a shame, as in its first five minutes the movie establishes that director Luke Greenfield and his screenwriters (five or so) understand high school life. Using yearbook photos as a motif to frame the story, Greenfield captures realistic snapshots of the various high school cliques while setting student body president Matthew Kidman (Emile Hirsch) apart from the pack. Not in a good way, either; despite his leadership skills, he's too tightly wound to really fit in with his peers.

Matthew does have two friends that form, as they later call themselves, "the tripod." Would-be filmmaker Eli (Chris Marquette) serves as Matthew's sexual advisor, having learned much from his extensive porn collection. Nervously hanging back is the unfortunately and unbelievably named Klitz ("…with a K"), played by Paul Dano in one of this year's ugliest haircuts. Probably for social survival, all three keep a low profile at school, until Danielle (Elisha Cuthbert) bursts into their lives.

Even past the revelation of Danielle's day job, the movie maintains a gentle tone for a bit. Occasionally the script dives into Matthew's head, revealing his innermost fears for a few laughs, but the "reality" still stays rooted. That is, until Eli figures out who Danielle really is and Matthew handles the knowledge badly.

Then the porn world intrudes into the suburban teen one, and things go awry. Still funny, but definitely awry.

Despite being under age, Matthew has no problem getting into a strip club, nor crashing the Adult Film Convention in Las Vegas. It might be believable once, but not twice, especially as Hirsch has that awkward look between teenager and young adult. No way is this guy not going to get carded.

Even as the movie revels in its concept, it also passes judgment on it. Danielle's ex-boyfriend now manager Kelly (Timothy Olyphant) oozes through all of his scenes, alternately funny, charming and dangerous. There's nothing upstanding about the guy, but you can see why his hustle works. And even though it plays as a way to make "the tripod" look cool to the other students, it's more than a little disturbing as Kelly toys with offering some high school cheerleaders modeling jobs.

Just to be fair, there's a "good guy" porn czar, too, in the form of Hugo Posh (James Remar). Mysteriously, he seems to live in the same town as Matthew, and will offer he and Danielle an awkward redemption.

For Danielle does seek redemption. When she returns to a life of porn, we are meant to see it as a fall from the grace of her true love with a high school student. Confronting her in her outfit of mesh and leather, Matthew looks soulfully and utters, "you're better than this." If this were reality, a deleted scene would include the line, "…but please don't throw away that outfit."

There's no doubt that for some, pornography is absolutely a demeaning experience. There are probably both Kellys and Hugos in the business. Yet when Matthew's third act plan requires some of Danielle's porn star friends (Sung Hi Lee and Amanda Swisten) to do what they do best, nobody seems to mind that there's no one to pull them out of the life.

The actors all have a good sense of timing and great screen presence. When he gets some age to his boyish face, Hirsch could turn out to be a strong leading man. Marquette plays his perverted friend role fearlessly, and if you think that's a hindrance, remember that John Cusack started out in similar roles. As for Cuthbert, she's simply luminous in both innocence and bad girl and has a believable chemistry with Hirsch.

However, most of the movie gets neatly stolen away by Olyphant. He made barely a blip last year in Dreamcatcher, but here he blows everybody off the screen. When Kelly turns vicious, it catches both Matthew and the audience by surprise, though it probably shouldn't. Olyphant has charmed everybody that well.

And so the movie has its charms, but tries to have its cake and eat it, too. (The flavor is left to your own personal fetish, thank you.)

You may like it, but it will probably leave you feeling a little dirty.

Oh, so, dirty.

(cue bad jazz…)

Sorry. Just carried the mood over.


Derek McCaw

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