On its surface, at least, The Girl Next Door looks like it might be one of those Manic Pixie Dream Girl flicks. Y'know, there's some all-work-but-no-play nice guy who's never really figured out how to live or love...at least until some unrestrained, impossibly cute girl waltzes in and shakes everything up. Sure, Matthew Kidman (Emile Hirsch) fits the bill as the stuffed shirt type. He's gotten the nod as student council president, he has an acceptance letter to Georgetown in hand, he'd raised twenty-five big ones ("big one"s are thousands, right?) to ship over some pint-sized genius from Cambodia...but you kinda get the impression he's never actually kissed a girl or anything. The rest of the senior class is blowing off the last few weeks of school to get plastered on the beach or whatever, and Matt's quietly, dutifully going to class with his only real friends: the meekly quiet Klitz (Paul Dano) and a porn-obsessed horndog named Eli (Chris Marquette). Matthew's gotten the memo that he's pissing away what are supposed to be the best years of his life, but he's not so much the type to do anything about it.
Before I first tore into The Girl Next Door way back in 2004, I strolled in expecting a dumb teen-titty-comedy where some schlub falls for a porn star and spends an hour and a half trying to dupe her into the whole romance thing. Stupid marketing! No, this isn't some retread of Tomcats or whatever other cookie-cutter-barrel-drums-of-assorted-bodily-fluids-not-really-a-comedy you want to fill into that Mad Libs blank. The Girl Next Door is more of a coming-of-age romance, really, owing more to the teen sex comedies of the '80s than the American Pie brigade. Sure, there are a couple helpings of raunch heaped on here, but it's clever, witty, and (awwww...) disarmingly sweet too. Porn is the linchpin of the plot and drives a few key sequences, but The Girl Next Door doesn't really revel in it like some sort of cheap gimmick. As much as the flick cracks me up, I almost don't want to even label it as a comedy. Its sense of humor doesn't lean on wacky misadventures!, there really aren't any gross-out gags, and the laughs tend to come in quick, controlled bursts. I mean, there are bits like Matthew sitting next to his father's best friend while getting a lap dance, Klitz squeezing a starlet's overinflated boob while pretending to be a porn director, and Matty fantasizing about Danielle shoving her tongue down his mother's throat, sure, but The Girl Next Door makes it a point to put these sorts of moments in actual scenes with a point rather than just lean on mindlessly broad comedic setups. I love the fact that this is a movie with an attack parrot, some guy in a pig costume with a cartoonishly oversized boner, and one of Matt's friends getting whacked in the balls with a fencing lance, and yet I can sincerely fawn over just how clever it can be. Hey! There's a little something for everyone.
The Girl Next Door is pretty much perfectly cast too. Straight off the top...? Elisha Cuthbert: adorably cute, smolderingly whatever, and alternately but convincingly take-no-shit strong and deeply wounded. Emile Hirsch makes for a more compelling lead than most for this sort of movie, and I especially like how subtle his fumbling awkwardness can be, even with something as seemingly minor as swiping a motel keycard the wrong way. Paul Marquette and Paul Dano score most of the flick's laughs, and as many movies as I've seen 'em in over the past few years, they'll always be stuck as Eli and Klitz in my head. Timothy Olyphant is another standout, striking that same effortless balance of impossibly cool sleazy charm and menacing bite that he'd nailed in Go.
It's also nice to see
So, is this a movie that's going to be fondly revered as some sort of classic twenty years down the line like Risky Business is now? Eh, probably not, but who cares? The chunks that are supposed to be funny score a laugh, the sugary-sweet parts are charming and endearing, the road's peppered with enough left-turns to keep catching me off-guard, and yeah, it gives me a chance to ogle Elisha Cuthbert too. It's sharply written and well-acted, and that sets it apart from the schlocky teen sex comedies I'm used to trudging through these days.
Only the unrated cut of The Girl Next Door has made its way over to Blu-ray. Nope, no dice for completists who wanted the theatrical cut piled on here too, not that I really get why anyone would be screaming out for that. Director Luke Greenfield spells out most of the differences between the two versions in his audio commentary: shotgun shells scattered across the ground as Matthew walks to his almost certain death, Kelly shoving a kid as he barges into a classroom, and some additional snippets in the limo. 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 playing in the background at Eli's and a lot more nudity in the strip club. If you were keeping your fingers crossed, no, Elisha Cuthbert never goes topless, but that's not a tease -- it completely fits with her character -- and she comes close enough that I don't think too many people will walk away disappointed.
Okay, and now you're probably wondering why I've spent a few paragraphs straight gushing about The Girl Next Door but there's one of those "meh" Rent It recommendations in the sidebar. This is one of those frustrating "dig the movie; not so much its release on Blu-ray" cases, and The Girl Next Door is stuck with such a lousy HD presentation that I can't give it as high a score as I'd really like to be lobbing out right now. Sorry.
Yikes. The Girl Next Door is saddled with one of the weakest high-def transfers to slog its way onto Blu-ray from a major studio this year. It's as if Fox grabbed a musty, five-year-old HD master out of the freezer in the garage, chucked it into the microwave, mashed 'Defrost', and then slapped a $30 sticker price on it. There's borderline-zero fine detail, the image is excessively soft and lifeless, that sheen of film grain is a dull mush rather than being crisply rendered, its colors are muted, both black levels and contrast are anemic... If I'd waltzed into the room cold and this Blu-ray disc were playing, my kneejerk reaction would be that someone had just fished a DVD out of the $5 bin at Wal-Mart. It's a very, very marginal step up -- and sometimes not even that -- from what I'd expect out of an upconverted DVD.
As luck (or something) would have it, I do still have the DVD that Fox released all the way back in 2004 to do a side-by-side comparison. The original DVD is clumsily compressed and even more poorly defined, but if Fox were to take this same exact master and reauthor the DVD today, the smart money says that the standard-def version and this Blu-ray disc would be almost indistinguishable from one another. I get that this is a lower-budget flick and may not ever rank as visually dazzling! or whatever, but The Girl Next Door really needs a new transfer. This is such a shoddy effort -- if...y'know, "effort" is even the word for it -- that despite the fact that I really do love The Girl Next Door, I can't recommend this Blu-ray disc at all.
The Girl Next Door is very lightly letterboxed to preserve its theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1, and its AVC encode has a meaty enough bitrate to spill over onto the second layer of this BD-50 disc.
The Girl Next Door belts out six-channel, 24-bit DTS-HD Master Audio on Blu-ray, and although the movie sounds better than it looks...yeah, that doesn't really amount to much. I mean, the mix is fine, if kinda routine. There's plenty of color in the surround channels to flesh out a sense of atmosphere, and everything's balanced well enough to keep the dialogue from ever being drowned out. The subwoofer isn't really given all that much to do, but it reinforces the music pretty well along with a handful of other effects like the death-sputter of an oversized inflatable pig. It's aggressively okay all around, and there's not some startling boost in clarity or anything. On the technical end of things, I'd shrug it off as fine but forgettable. On the other hand, The Girl Next Door does sport a great stack of music. Yeah, yeah, you have to look past stuff like Filter's "Take a Picture", but the movie opens with Queen-slash-Bowie, and there are also Echo and the Bunnymen, Elliott Smith, Pete Yorn, The Who, and Sloan (!!!). Sloooooooooooan!
Also tossed on here are lossy stereo surround dubs in Spanish and French. Its subtitles are served up in English (SDH) and Spanish.
The Final Word
I'd chalk myself up as a fan of The Girl Next Door: a witty, raunchy, '80s-flavored teen romance flick that owes more to John Hughes and Paul Brickman than...y'know, Porky's 2 or one of those direct-to-DVD American Pie knockoffs. Fox really needs to give this one a fresh pass through the telecine bay, though, and the five-year-old high-def master they dusted off for this Blu-ray disc barely even ranks as HD. I'd really like to be lobbing out something a little more enthusiastic right now, but with this indifferent a shrug of a release on Blu-ray...? Rent It.