“I’ll always remember … “
A film not necessarily loved upon release—many actually reviled it for “glamorizing” the life of a porn star—Luke Greenfield‘s The Girl Next Door was and still is a hilarious coming of age story for a post-American Pie world. It’s about finding yourself on the cusp of high school graduation without a memory worth telling as hitting the books and being a consummate student leaves you wanting. Matthew Kidman (Emile Hirsch) did everything he was supposed to on his quest to Georgetown and only found a continuing sense of dread, anxiety, and futility staring back at him instead of the relief he expected. Because no matter how good anyone is in school, life doesn’t get easier. Sometimes cutting loose and truly living is the only way to find that out-of-the-box idea for success.
Written by David Wagner and Brent Goldberg with credited (Stuart Blumberg) and uncredited (Greenfield) script work, the film introduces Matthew as he’s preparing for a scholarship competition that will make or break his financial chances at attending his dream school in the fall. As the goal he’s worked towards for twelve years nears, regret build and a yearning for fun becomes paramount. Daydreams of skipping class to hit the beach with the cool kids replace his dialed-in approach towards pop quizzes; responsibilities as Student Council President begin to feel like the joke his classmates always saw them as; and the arrival of a gorgeous new neighbor can’t help but distract from the speech he must complete. Unable to act impulsively on the first two, Danielle’s (Elisha Cuthbert) unexpected attention cannot be ignored.
What this overachiever doesn’t discover until after he falls in love, however, is that Danielle is a porn star looking to escape the life for the suburban normalcy she thought she wanted to leave behind. Matthew’s best friend Eli’s (Chris Marquette) borderline unhealthy obsession with the XXX industry brings the truth to light and ultimately transforms the one boy to ever see her as a real woman into a regular drooling fan fantasizing about sleeping with her and nothing else. This unfortunate slip in Matthew’s otherwise sweetly genuine demeanor just happens to coincide with Danielle’s producer/agent Kelly (Timothy Olyphant) showing up to take her back. The thought of losing her forces Matthew to choose between the life he’s strived to achieve and the one he’s only recently discovered could provide true happiness.
From here arrives the porn world adventure Matthew, Eli, and their tripod’s third leg Klitz (Paul Dano) embark on to find her—the latter two acting how immature, nerdy boys their age would when exposed to such unbridled sexuality. They’re thrust into the chaos of a Las Vegas convention, return home to the popular kids at school treating them with an air of regality, and evolve from geeks shoved into lockers a week earlier to those holding the keys to the high school jock holy grail. Kelly works his charm to recruit some of Matthew’s classmates (including an Olivia Wilde and Autumn Reeser straight off of their days on “The O.C.”) and Danielle’s actress buddies April (Amanda Swisten) and Ferrari (Sung Hi Lee) get roped into being Eli and Klitz’s prom dates.
While the depiction of the porn industry doesn’t necessarily get glamorized—Kelly is for all intents and purposes Danielle’s pimp—it does make it seem like a career path full of fun and excitement. Showing seventeen year olds fawn over an older guy offering them a chance to get paid for sex may not be the best example for young women, but this is an R-rated comedy. If the world we live in has gotten to the point where movies specifically made to be raunchy must be censored for content because impressionable youths never received the love or role models to grow self-esteem, well that’s not Hollywood’s problem. A movie like this provides an escape from real life through laughter and The Girl Next Door fits that bill. It’s fiction—let it be fiction.
The premise itself has to make you understand that Greenfield and company never meant to produce a public service announcement for kids to aspire towards a life in porn. It’s heightened look at the industry transforms it into a palatable backdrop for a high school romantic comedy unafraid to go past decency for humor. The major set piece has the kids filming their own explicit movie at prom, after all—stop taking it so seriously. Look beneath the subject matter and acknowledge that its message of love, ingenuity, and adulthood’s responsibilities and consequences is not just present but relevant. Like the pornography Matthew has envisioned, the film itself plays with its stereotypes to subvert taboo and give a disenfranchised youth something titillating to gain their attention but smart enough to let its theme sink in.
The laughs are big and often; the soundtrack is a never-ending stream of hits spanning Filter, Elliott Smith, David Gray, and Marvin Gaye; and the baby-faced cast consists of some of today’s best and brightest stars. Greenfield wanted an authenticity only relative unknowns possessed, each devoid of big star personal and professional baggage. Olyphant is hilariously smarmy, Marquette steals scenes with his overly excitable and profane delivery, Dano shows glimpses of the introspective nuance that’s made him so employable, and Cuthbert utilizes her sex appeal and infectious ‘girl next door’ smile to exist in both of Danielle’s universes. Emile Hirsch excels the greatest, though, with his straight-A student turned big man on campus full of awkward endearment. Their chemistry is great at handling the tone, ensuring everything comes across more charmingly provocative than exploitative.