'The Boy Next Door' Is Wrong, but It Feels So Good

Like a musical, The Boy Next Door often asks us to suspend our disbelief and take a ridiculous ride to an absurd place -- in this case, a place where first editions of The Iliad actually exist.

The Boy Next Door

Director: Rob Cohen
Cast: Jennifer Lopez, Kristin Chenoweth, Ryan Guzman, John Corbett
Distributor: Universal Studios
Rated: R
Year: 2015
US DVD Release Date: 2015-04-28

The Boy Next Door takes place in an idyllic suburb straight out of a '90s TV show, the kind of place where the unassuming Claire Peterson (Jennifer Lopez) can live her simple life without getting attention for her undeniable good looks and sex appeal. In fact, she is so un-J.Lo that her husband (John Corbett) cheats on her, which leads to their separation. Now Claire spends her days baking, teaching literature at a local high school, and trying her best to raise her teenage son Kevin (Ian Nelson), all while going on terrible dates that lead her to end her nights with a big glass of Chardonnay. Claire’s humdrum life gets turned around unexpectedly when she wins the attention of Noah (Ryan Guzman) the 19-year-old orphaned nephew of her next door neighbor, who has just moved into his uncle’s.

One compliment too many, a little flirtatious touch here and there, a gift of a "first edition" of The Iliad, and then one night, Claire has sex with him, only to wake up to a true nightmare: Noah believes he can spend the rest of his life with Claire. When she tells him it was a mistake, he loses his mind and decides to turn her life into a living hell.

First, he enrolls in the high school where she teaches and threatens to let Claire’s colleague Vicky (Kristin Chenoweth) know about their affair. He also begins to overpower Kevin and drive him away from his parents, which turns out to be rather easy given how malleable he seems to be. Noah also plans to device a way to get rid of Claire’s husband, who is looking to get back together with her.

This reduces Claire to becoming a character whose only purpose is to clean up after the mess she made and try to contain the damage as much as possible. After all, she really has no one else to blame but herself, and this is perhaps where The Boy Next Door is nothing like any other sexual thriller made. Despite being a walking cliché, Claire becomes empowered by the notion of owning up to her mistakes. While comparisons to Fatal Attraction are quite obvious, the difference between Claire and Michael Douglas’ character in that Adrian Lyne film is that the former never places the entire blame on the obsessive lover, but also on herself. The pain we see Claire go through is made evident by the way in which she feels like she allowed a stranger to shatter her world. There is a further element that makes the film quite unique: we get a sense that Claire had probably never had such a memorable sexual experience as she did with Noah.

Most American films have very Victorian views when it comes to sex, and it’s not unusual for characters to be punished for their inability to contain their libidos. But in The Boy Next Door, this mindset is also subverted during a sex scene in which, unlike any other recent film, all the attention is centered on the female orgasm. It’s clear that Noah wants Claire, but most films would have the sex scene be all about the act of simulated penetration. In this film, Noah seems to get the most pleasure out of performing oral sex on Claire. After a few seconds, his pleasure becomes unimportant compared to the ecstasy that overtakes Claire. It seems like an insignificant moment in terms of meaning, but even the camera placement in this scene works to help Claire become the dominant force in the equation. It’s a remarkably well done scene and after it, Claire becomes a much more interesting character.

As played by Lopez, who rarely gets the praise she deserves, we understand that Claire is someone who has always been dedicated to helping others and has never given herself the care and attention she deserves. Lopez’s assured performance proves to be perhaps her best on-screen work since Out of Sight, in which her natural sensuality was also enhanced and even slightly caricatured. Lopez proves here that she is as magnetic a performer as ever, effortlessly carrying the film on her shoulders.

However, this doesn’t necessarily make the film any “good” in the conventional sense. Director Rob Cohen seems unable to hold back on using all the overused conventions available, and you can see the twists and turns from a mile away. Yet even with its typical structure and cheesy moments, The Boy Next Door feels like a much better movie than it is because it’s so lacking in self-consciousness. When Noah exclaims how much he likes Claire’s “cookies”, we snicker, but we also can’t help but feel like nothing else could’ve been said in that moment. If the film appears to take place in a TV show, it’s because this is where it wants our minds to go. Like a musical, The Boy Next Door often asks us to suspend our disbelief and take a ridiculous ride to a place where first editions of The Iliad are a thing and anvils can actually fall on characters, as if straight out of a Looney Tunes short.

The Boy Next Door is presented in 1080p high definition. The Blu-ray edition includes three bonus features: a series of deleted scenes that don’t necessarily contribute anything to the final cut, a standard behind-the-scenes documentary with glossy interviews featuring actors pretending they’re talking about a better film than the one they’re in, and finally feature commentary from director Rob Cohen, who also directed the Vin Diesel extravaganza XXX, a movie that's as over-the-top as this one, albeit with a different, hyper-masculine bent.


The Best Indie Rock of 2017

Photo courtesy of Matador Records

The indie rock genre is wide and unwieldy, but the musicians selected here share an awareness of one's place on the cultural-historical timeline.

Indie rock may be one of the most fluid and intangible terms currently imposed upon musicians. It holds no real indication of what the music will sound like and many of the artists aren't even independent. But more than a sonic indicator, indie rock represents a spirit. It's a spirit found where folk songsters and punk rockers come together to dialogue about what they're fed up with in mainstream culture. In so doing they uplift each other and celebrate each other's unique qualities.

With that in mind, our list of 2017's best indie rock albums ranges from melancholy to upbeat, defiant to uplifting, serious to seriously goofy. As always, it's hard to pick the best ten albums that represent the year, especially in such a broad category. Artists like King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard had a heck of a year, putting out four albums. Although they might fit nicer in progressive rock than here. Artists like Father John Misty don't quite fit the indie rock mold in our estimation. Foxygen, Mackenzie Keefe, Broken Social Scene, Sorority Noise, Sheer Mag... this list of excellent bands that had worthy cuts this year goes on. But ultimately, here are the ten we deemed most worthy of recognition in 2017.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Keep reading... Show less

It's ironic that by injecting a shot of cynicism into this glorified soap opera, Johnson provides the most satisfying explanation yet for the significance of The Force.

Despite J.J. Abrams successfully resuscitating the Star Wars franchise with 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens, many fans were still left yearning for something new. It was comforting to see old familiar faces from a galaxy far, far away, but casual fans were unlikely to tolerate another greatest hits collection from a franchise already plagued by compositional overlap (to put it kindly).

Keep reading... Show less

Yeah Yeah Yeahs played a few US shows to support the expanded reissue of their debut Fever to Tell.

Although they played a gig last year for an after-party for a Mick Rock doc, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs hadn't played a proper NYC show in four years before their Kings Theatre gig on November 7th, 2017. It was the last of only a handful of gigs, and the only one on the East coast.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.