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Reviews

'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.

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