I don't really have a reputation for being a particularly succinct writer, so I'll try a little experiment in the case of The Girl Next Door. If you're reading this review, dollars to double-dongs it's because of Elisha Cuthbert. So, rather than merely bore you with rambling plot summaries or excruciatingly long examinations into the minutiae of the movie, I'll pepper this review with big, pretty pictures.
See? Everybody wins!
So, Elisha Cuthbert is the titular girl next door. Hey, stop snickering -- that's "titular" as in "title". If I were trying to be crass, I'd have said "tit-tacular". Anyway, if there's a girl next door, that probably means there's a boy next door too, and that would be Matthew Kidman (Emile Hirsch). He's a studious and determined high school senior teetering on graduation, but being elected student council president, raising enough money to ship a young genius out of Cambodia, and receiving an acceptance letter to his dream school of Georgetown aren't really enough for Matthew. He feels like he's stuck in a rut and squandering his high school years, and his extracurriculars and a pair of close pals -- the conservative Klitz (Paul Dano) and porn-crazed horndog Eli (Chris Marquette) -- can't fill that void in his life. Enter the girl next door. Danielle (Cuthbert) drives in from L.A. to housesit while Matthew's next-door neighbor is out of town, and he's instantly smitten. Danielle catches him catching a peek as she changes, and after exacting her revenge, the two fall in adorable, cuddly love. Matthew starts living for the first time, blowing off his classes and engaging in mildly dangerous hijinks like taking a late-night dip in his principal's swimming pool. Even though she's only nineteen, Danielle's managed to pack a couple of skeletons in her closet, most notably her past as a porn star. Matthew doesn't take the unexpected revelation that Eli delivers particularly well, seeing his girlfriend only as a nubile pleasure box rather than the keen gal he's been doting over. His thoroughly unpleasant reaction pushes Danielle back in the arms of scuzzy porn producer Kelly (Timothy Olyphant), who pals around with Matthew until his business is threatened. Matthew goes to great lengths to try to apologize and win back Danielle, but his seemingly wasted determination threatens everything he's worked for over so many years.
I went in expecting a dumb movie where a guy has a crush on a porn star and spends an hour and a half convincing her to fall in love with him. Stupid marketing! No, The Girl Next Door doesn't really take its cues from the glut of teen sex comedies that followed in the wake of American Pie, flicks with interchangable cookie-cutter premises and barrel drums of assorted bodily fluids passing for comedy. At its core, The Girl Next Door is a coming of age romance, having more in common with teen sex comedies from a couple decades prior than anything churned out over the past couple of years. Sure, there's a lot of raunch, but there's even more sweetness beating in its celluloid heart. The porn elements are integral to the plot, but they're primarily used as a catalyst rather than squarely being the focus. Although there are a lot of funny parts, it's not a movie I'd really even want to characterize as being a straightahead comedy. Most of the humor isn't of the wacky misadventure variety, there aren't really any gross-out gags, and the laughs tend to come in quick, controlled bursts. I mean, bits like Matthew getting a lap dance with his father's best friend, Klitz squeezing a pornstar's overinflated boob under the guise of being a porn director, or Matthew fantasizing about Danielle making out with his mother aren't exactly shining examples of restrained, clever wit, but the movie seems more heavily geared towards putting these funny moments in actual scenes with a point rather than mindlessly broad comedic setups. If it weren't for jawdropper Elisha Cuthbert and her sexy, sweet, strong character, I'd have probably said the supporting characters stole the movie. Klitz and Eli are responsible for most of the movie's laughs, and Timothy Olyphant strikes that same effortless balance of cool and menacing that he pulled off in Go a few years earlier. I also liked the fact that the movie wasn't painfully predictable. Although I'd sincerely hope no one reading this review doubts that things are smoothed over between Danielle and Matthew before the end credits roll, there are enough twists that it's not telegraphed how our hero's going to get there, and the conclusion to the third act that I thought I had completely figured out turned out to be entirely different. The climax isn't even about winning the girl or triumphing over the bullies that pestered our hero, which is a welcome change from formula.
Okay, maybe The Girl Next Door isn't going to be remembered as a classic in twenty years like Risky Business, an inevitable point of comparison, is now. But when I look at the movie in terms of what it sets out to accomplish, it succeeds. The parts that are supposed to be funny are funny, the parts that are supposed to be sweet are sweet, and pretend I used the same repetitive sentence structure to describe the surprising and sultry bits. Its smarter script and more capable actors elevate it above the dismal teen sex comedies it'll probably wind up being lumped in with down the road.
Fox is churning out two separate DVDs of The Girl Next Door. The first is, of course, the theatrical cut, and then there's the unrated version reviewed here. Luke Greenfield points out some of the differences on the DVD's audio commentary -- shotgun shells scattered across the ground as Matthew walks to his almost certain death, Kelly pushing a kid as he barges into a classroom, and some additional footage in the limo scenes. Aside from some of the new footage spliced into the film, there are also a few alternate shots popped in there, with more explicit porn videos playing in the background at Eli's and a lot more nudity in the strip club. To answer the inevitable question, no, Elisha Cuthbert doesn't get nekkid, but she comes close enough that I don't think too many people will come away disappointed. Oh, and if you want to pretend that's a double entendre, feel free.
Video: The Girl Next Door is presented in anamorphic widescreen at an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The image quality is generally solid, and its visual quirks probably owe more to the way the movie was shot than anything specific to this transfer, such as the intermittent softness and mild film grain that creep in. Predictably, the source material is in great shape, with no nicks or specks littering the screen. The palette isn't as vivid or hypersaturated as many vaguely similar movies over the past few years, but that appears to be an intentional choice, and the colors here seem to be accurately represented. Detail and clarity are both decent but decidedly unremarkable, and I could use that same description for the presentation as a whole.
Audio: The one indescribably dull thing about reviewing a six-channel comedy is tackling the audio section since I invariably wind up rehashing the same bland description over and over again. The first few minutes lulled me into a false sense of security, establishing a great ambiance in the school with chattering kids buzzing from every direction, localized sound effects like a barrage of snapping cameras, and even a pretty impressive low-end kick as a giant inflatable pig sputters to the ground. That tiny chunk of sonic bliss quickly fades away, transforming into a standard comedy mix where the surrounds and subwoofer are almost entirely dormant except when reinforcing the bits of music throughout the movie. The usual disclaimers apply: there's nothing inherently flawed about the technical aspects of the mix, and the film's dialogue comes through cleanly and clearly. It just doesn't leave much for a struggling DVD reviewer to prattle on about for a paragraph or two. Well, I suppose that's not entirely true. Rather than piling on generic pop-punk, The Girl Next Door has a really great soundtrack. It opens with David Bowie and Queen's "Under Pressure", later tossing in Echo and the Bunnymen, Elliott Smith, Pete Yorn, and The Who, just to rattle off a few. Oh, and as a card-carrying fan, I have to love any movie that punctuates a character's newfound confidence by blasting "If It Feels Good Do It" by Sloan.
The English Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is encoded at a bitrate of 448Kbps. Other audio options include stereo surround dubs in French and Spanish, subtitles in English and Spanish, and closed captions.
Supplements: Director Luke Greenfield starts off his audio commentary by saying how much he'd been looking forward to recording this track, and it's apparent. There's a steady flow of discussion without any lulls, and although Greenfield sounds as if he'd mapped out all the points he wanted to hit in advance, he doesn't come through as over-prepared either. It's a very natural, very informative, very entertaining track, and his pride and enthusiasm for the movie are almost infectious. There's also a subtitle trivia track that works pretty well in tandem with Greenfield's commentary. There are a couple of bits of info specific to the movie, like My Big Fat Greek Gangbang being among the titles considered for a background gag, but it's mostly just random trivia -- eleven is the average age where boys see their first porn mag, driving burns two calories per minute, and the longest Hollywood screen kiss clocked in at three minutes, three seconds in 1941's You're In The Army Now, f'r instance.
Flipping over the disc to scare up some more extras, Emile Hirsch and Elisha Cuthbert provide their own sets of audio commentary for a few select scenes. Hirsch doesn't have much to say, frequently just narrating or laughing at whatever's on-screen. In between lengthy gaps of silence, he talks about having to shave his chest hair and suffering through the chilly weather. Cuthbert is a lot more talkative, discussing her disinterest in baring it all on-screen, how she helped flesh out her character (no pun intended), and showing off her Crayola-fueled artistic skills on camera. Both actors were recorded separately and wind up covering a couple of the same scenes. Hirsch's set runs around nine minutes and Cuthbert's comes closer to thirteen.
"The Eli Experience" (7:56) has Chris Marquette terrorizing the AVN Awards in character. Eli chats it up with pornstars and the press, and he gives conventioneers a chance to act on-camera with a, um, petite little flower dubbed Buttercup. "A Look Next Door" (9:59) is a pretty bland promotional featurette, tossing an armful of clips from the movie in with a bunch of fluffy Mutual Admiration Society interviews where the actors describe their characters and gush over everyone in earshot. It's the type of thing that's really meant more to pique the interest of people who haven't already seen the movie.
A bit of extra footage that didn't make it into the finished flick is also available on this DVD, beginning with a standard issue gag reel (2:47). There are also sixteen deleted and extended scenes, each with optional commentary by Luke Greenfield. The footage runs around eleven minutes total, which obviously averages out to less than a minute a pop. Most of the additional material is too short to make much of an impact, and a couple -- like the alternate ending and Matthew sulking about his prospects for the future -- seem kind of ill-conceived. But anyway, fans can look forward to a little more sex, a little more violence, and a whole lot more Cambodians. As is always appreciated, the footage can be viewed individually or consecutively.
The disc's still gallery compiles around forty production photos and behind-the-scenes shots. Finally, there's a selection of trailers that includes the "diRRRty" clip for The Girl Next Door, a promo reel with peeks at a bunch of different Fox DVD releases, a trailer for There's Something About Mary, and a plug for the upcoming unrated Club Dread DVD. Also, there's at least one Easter Egg hidden on the disc. On the 'Special Features' menu, select 'Gag Reel' and mash the 'Right' button on your DVD remote. That'll reveal an "xxx" that serves up a ten-minute '70s-flavored sex ed film.
The Girl Next Door features a set of animated 16x9 menus and twenty-eight chapter stops. The disc comes packaged in a keepcase, and a brown cardboard slip fits over Elisa's ensemble to make her look a little more nekkid.
Conclusion: The Girl Next Door is not the movie I thought it was going to be. I went in expecting a vapid American Pie knockoff starring an exceptionally beautiful young woman, which admittedly is enough to convince me to fork over my credit card. The Girl Next Door owes more to John Hughes and Paul Brickman than the Weitz Brothers, resulting in a raunchy but '80s-flavored teen romance instead of just boobs and bodily fluids spewing all over the place. It's definitely at least worth a rental, and if the mass-marketers kick down the price down low enough when the DVD is released later this month, I'd recommend it as a purchase.