Reviews

The Girl Next Door: Unrated Version (2004)

Cynthia Fuchs

The film begins by introducing just how hard it is to be in high school -- a good and difficult thing for adults to remember.


The Girl Next Door

Director: Luke Greenfield
Cast: Emile Hirsch, Elisha Cuthbert, Nicholas Downs, Timothy Olyphant, Sung Hi (Ulysses) Lee, Chris Marquette, Paul Dano, Amanda Swisten, James Remar
MPAA rating: R
Studio: 20th Century Fox
First date: 2004
It was more of a teen sex farce when I first read it. So we kind of took this broad script and ground it into reality.
-- Luke Greenfield, commentary track, The Girl Next Door

When you're in a theater and he asks right now for a blow job, everyone going, "Oh, god, no, no, no." And it kind of goes from being scary, to letting him off the hook.
-- Luke Greenfield, commentary track, The Girl Next Door

The first moments of director Luke Greenfield's commentary for the DVD of The Girl Next Door are wholly intriguing: "I've been excited to do this commentary for a long time now, and it kind of sucks a second time here in spots because I legally wasn't allowed to say certain things." Okay, now you're listening. But no, he's bound by those legalities, and you never know what he said or why he couldn't say it.

The film begins by introducing just how hard it is to be in high school -- a good and difficult thing for adults to remember. Feeling "Under Pressure," as Bowie's song reminds you, protagonist Matthew (Emile Hirsch) is feeling that his high school career has been wasted, nothing but hard work and making deadlines. "He's barely kissed a girl," observes Greenfield. "He wants adventure in his own world. Writing is always autobiographical, and yes there's a lot of me and my high school, Staples High School, in Westport, Connecticut... I went to school with a bunch of jackasses."

Greenfield's commentary is consistently energetic and charming, as he proclaims his devotion to U2, and loves his actors (one being his mom: "Look at that! It's so real"). He also insists repeatedly that he wanted to make movie about a kid headed on a "wild ride," a mature movie and not a teen movie (this is made clear by the more explicit sex images in the unrated version, but thematically, it's also refreshingly complex). The DVD includes a subtitle trivia track that complements his own observations, and, on the disc's flipside, several Hirsch and costar Elisha Cuthbert offering their own comments for selected scenes; "The Eli Experience," where Chris Marquette goes to the AVN Awards in character; a vague making-of featurette called "A Look Next Door"; some extra footage and outtakes, as well as 16 deleted and extended scenes, with Greenfield's commentary.

In fact, his observations go a long way toward making the film worth seeing again on DVD. Accepted at Georgetown, 18-year-old Matthew (Emile Hirsch) idolizes JFK and worries he has nothing to "remember" about high school. At the start of The Girl Next Door, he's daydreaming of academic triumphs while his jockishly handsome classmates are planning their next trip to the beach with girls in bikinis. He thinks he wants to go, too, but he's scared he'll get caught skipping. He's a good kid, with a future to fret about. And so he sits in the parking lot, frustrated, still lacking a decent memory from his time at Westport High School.

And then he sees her, the titular Girl Next Door. For a couple of weeks anyway, Danielle (Elisha Cuthbert) is house-sitting for her vacationing aunt. Matthew watches her unpack her curvy little Volkswagen convertible, then calls his best friend Eli (Chris Marquette). (As she sways into Matthew's life and line of vision, the soundtrack plays Echo and the Bunnymen's "The Killing Moon": "Your lips a magic world, / Your sky all hung with jewels"). Eager to describe her perfection (Danielle appears in the bedroom window across the way from his), Matt endures Eli's counter-commentary on the latest porn video he's watching. "It really freaks me out when you watch that while you're talking to me," whines Matt, just before he has to hang up. Danielle is undressing.

The American Pie-ish adolescent boy jokes run out of steam early, but, as Greenfield points out in his commentary, the film does have something else going on: Matthew is a completely good kid, only yearning to have the awesome experience he imagines his peers are having. Danielle catches Matt looking, then invites him out for a drive in that cute Bug; she's new in town, and wants him to "show her around." She, of course, will show him a few things, in the car and a diner booth, including the observation that his most effective means to a memorable senior year will be "a girl."

She seems the ideal candidate, both because and though she turns out to be a porn star, looking to "go straight." That is, for all the salaciousness that the film pretends, this good girl is really good: her steamiest moments are imagined by Matt, whose embarrassment at dating a porn star (he tells Eli that he wouldn't think of "fucking" her) is rivaled only by his giddy geek-boy interest. Danielle, for her part, is drawn to Matty's innocence, or more to the point, what this says about her. Still, she can't help but tweak that innocence just a little, encouraging him to be more adventurous, daring him to skip school, go swimming in his principal's backyard pool, and "just go with it." Cue sweet montages in the car, in the diner, in his room while he studies and she listens to music.

Formulaic, the film establishes the romance for a minute, then pulls the rug out from beneath it when Matty learns Danielle is a porn star, (imagining her as a "disease" that's infecting his household, as Greenfield says), and then behaves badly. (It's not his fault though; he's only following the advice of his porn-instructed friend Eli, who advises him to "tap that ass" in a skanky motel). Understandably put off by this abrupt change in her nice-guy beau, Danielle also sees herself mirrored in Matty's childish expectation and insecurity: she'll never be anything but a porn star. "It's who I am," she pouts.

She's further persuaded to see herself this way by the other man in her life, loutish and oddly charismatic porn producer Kelly (Timothy Olyphant, who wears his spiky hair and plaid slacks with admirable élan). The morning after Matty's bad behavior (which leaves him in the motel parking lot, "un-fucked"), Kelly arrives to fetch "D" and scuttle her back to porn-land. "Here's a boy," says Greenfield, "meeting The Man." Greenfield makes this point again and again: he's only 18! And that's why his choices are difficult, why his reactions are youthful, and why you can appreciate -- as Greenfield does emphatically -- the delicacy of his performance, especially in relation to Cuthbert and Oliphant.

The film, written by Stuart Blumberg, David T. Wagner, and Brent Goldberg, spends some slow time lurching about when Danielle exits for prolonged periods, as Kelly pretends to bond with Matty and Matty believes him because, oh, because teenaged boys just can't see themselves clearly, no matter how hard they try or how many clues they're given. Matty goes to the strip bar, smokes a cigar, and rides around with his new pal, unable to imagine that what D actually likes about him is that he is unlike Kelly. Matty's pursuit of the girl of his dreams leads him and his fellow nerds, Eli and Klitz (Paul Dano), to the Adult Video Convention in Vegas, where they are duly impressed by sleazy porn king Hugo Posh (James Remar) and enticed to "feel" the silicone breasts of a wannabe starlet.

As the boys' awe and awkwardness at the porn convention make for all kinds of easy gags (Greenfield calls them "the three little pigs" going into the porn world), the focus on the romance slips sideways: putting on his best puppy dog look, Matty convinces Danielle to follow him home and attend prom with him. Even though she abruptly returns to town, the film persists in its adherence to the Risky Business blueprint, as Matty confronts a series of increasingly uninteresting obstacles embodied or caused by Kelly and Hugh. These include the requisite embarrassment in front of judgmental adults (a speech on "moral fiber" that Matty delivers while high on Ecstasy, in competition for his college scholarship) as well as the desperate and instantaneous need for cash. Here, Kelly steals the $25,000 that good boy Matty has long ago raised to bring Cambodian teen Samnang (Ulysses Lee) to attend school in the States (apparently, he's a genius, "the next Einstein," but he has little to do in the movie except smile for video camera missives to his would-be benefactor).

Eli and Klitz agree to help Matty because, as Eli the wannabe filmmaker puts it, a "tripod," which leads to the film's climactic gag, the apparent making of a porn film in the high school basement, during prom. But The Girl Next Door is not nearly so raucous as it fronts. It is more complicated than it seems, however, especially in the schizzy characterization of Kelly -- "Is the juice worth the squeeze?" he asks Matty, by way of instruction, taunting, and terrorizing. For all its raunchy allusions and language, the film is essentially conservative, as Matt succeeds in romance and, importantly, business. Where the adults are consistently inept, ignorant, or dishonest, the kids are canny entrepreneurs.

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 year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less
Culture

Net Neutrality and the Music Ecosystem: Defending the Last Mile

Still from Whiplash (2014) (Photo by Daniel McFadden - © Courtesy of Sundance Institute) (IMDB)

"...when the history books get written about this era, they'll show that the music community recognized the potential impacts and were strong leaders." An interview with Kevin Erickson of Future of Music Coalition.

Last week, the musician Phil Elverum, a.k.a. Mount Eerie, celebrated the fact that his album A Crow Looked at Me had been ranked #3 on the New York Times' Best of 2017 list. You might expect that high praise from the prestigious newspaper would result in a significant spike in album sales. In a tweet, Elverum divulged that since making the list, he'd sold…six. Six copies.

Keep reading... Show less

Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

Keep reading... Show less
9
Books

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

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

rating-image