Watching this movie, I’m reminded that only in the movies is The Girl Next Door a sexy young former porn star, as I look out the window at a 300 pound rhinoceros mowing her yard in a thong that used to be hot pants.
Teen sex comedies are a dime a dozen. Even if their quality has improved as of late with gems like Eurotrip and American Pie, they are formulaic and cliché, so much so in fact, that the genre was an easy target for Not Another Teen Movie. It’s nice to finally see a refreshing take that brings some originality to the concept. That’s exactly what The Girl Next Door is - a fresh take.
The film starts as many of these type movies do - reintroducing us to the high school life. Specifically, it’s graduation time, and we are reminded of the feelings of nostalgia and anticipation as everyone offers their favorite memories to the tune of Queen’s “Under Pressure”. But not everybody is happy. Matthew (Emile Hirsch) looks back at his high school career with regret. He’s achieved a lot of accomplishments - head of the student government, acceptance into his college of choice, winning awards, but he’s not really taken hold of the time in his life where he can get away with skipping classes or other rebellious deeds. We even see him making a bold attempt to skip class and head for the beach with the other truants, resulting in a devastating and potentially deadly situation with a security guard - until Matt jumps back into reality and we see he was just thinking about it. He’s a dreamer, but even his dreams have an edge of responsibility unusual for someone his age.
Enter The Girl Next Door - Danielle (Elisha Cuthbert), a sexed up mystery girl who is housesitting for her aunt. It isn’t long before she has Matt running naked through the neighborhood and breaking into his high school principal’s swimming pool. (Ah, the crazy things men do for love). Alas, it isn’t long before Matt’s friend Eli (Chris Marquette) discovers Danielle’s secret - she’s a former porn star. Prompted by his friends, Matt attempts to have sex with a porn star in a cheap hotel (Ah, the stupid things men do for sex) and ruins the relationship. Matt is left devastated as Danielle returns to the world she was trying to escape when her adult film producer, Kelly(Timothy Olyphant) comes after her. Before Matt knows what’s going on, he’s caught in the middle of a fight between two porn producers as he tries to regain the love of his life, all while attempting to win scholarships and graduate from high school.
Without a doubt, this was a movie that the cast and crew had fun making, but managed to channel that fun and make a better movie instead of letting the movie suffer, which happens far too often. It’s the type of movie where almost every character manages to steal the scene when they’re on screen at least once, which means some of the scenes break down to a tug of war, as actors one up each other with dialog and performance. There’s no real “breakthrough” performance because every character has been cast with such perfection, and it’s obvious every actor really took hold of their role and ran with it. Even Cuthbert, who has managed to be dreadful at times on television’s “24” is excellent, possibly because the writers smartly keep her dialog to a minimum, allowing her to look sexy and not ruin any moments with poor acting. From the lead roles played by Hirsch and Cuthbert, to Matt’s friends played by Marquette and Paul Dano, even to the sleazy porn producers brought to life by Olyphant and James Remar, the cast brings perfection and hilarity to the odd combination of a high school graduation story mixed with the sleazy underworld of adult films.
All of this is brought to life by director Luke Greenfield. Honestly, I wouldn’t have expected much from the director of Rob Schneider’s The Animal, but he brings an impressive style to the film, whether it’s influencing the audience’s perceptions with a particular style of shots, or the over the top style of Matt’s dream sequences. He makes sure every major character has a “thing”, whether it’s a catch phrase or action, nobody gets left behind. Basically he gives every actor a chance to shine, and thankfully they all do.
The film is crude, although it’s not as outright disgusting as a lot of teenage flicks are. I’m not sure it’ll appeal to all audiences, but it probably will be liked by more then will give it a fair shake. I certainly didn’t expect much from it, but I found myself laughing out loud and sympathizing with these characters. If you can get past the nudity and sex, give The Girl Next Door a try - you might be surprised at how much you like it.
The Girl Next Door is the next of the R-rated comedies to be subjected to an “Unrated version” on DVD. Just like the other versions, the “Unrated” bit seems to be an attempt to cash in on people’s desires to see the film’s stars naked. Let me say right off the bat, there is no naked Elisha Cuthbert in this movie!
The “Unrated” version of the movie adds nine extra minutes to the film, mostly in an extra shot here and there, mostly of porn materials. When Matthew and Eli have a conversation on the phone, we now see the porn Eli is watching. A couple of the tease scenes where Cuthbert or other women strip down have been extended to show a little more flesh, and some of the women (particularly during the lap dance sequence) now are topless where before they had bikini tops on. None of the “Extended” footage really affects the movie, and if I had a choice I really could care less which version of the film I had... except the “Unrated Version” has more extras - and they are extras worth having.
The standard director’s commentary is available on both versions of the film. Unlike so many commentaries out there though, Greenfield speaks with passion in his voice and an excitement about telling you, the viewer, about his movie. He talks about tricks he used to try and affect the audience’s nostalgia for the time period in their lives Matt is currently in, and the audience’s sympathy towards Matt. He talks about the whole process from the writing (even though he isn’t credited for any involvement) to the filming, and he keeps it interesting.
Also available on both versions is a text based “fact track” that can play during the movie. It’s pretty standard for movies that use this sort of thing, offering trivia on the movie and other weird stuff (school drop out rates, college acceptance rates, etc.). It’s pretty cool, and done so that it’s always on part of the screen that’s not important, so it’s unobtrusive. It’s a fun, albeit unessential extra, and is the only thing other then the director’s commentary that the two versions share.
Exclusive to the “Unrated Edition” are 16 deleted or alternate scenes. Some of these are very cool, and a couple of them would have taken the story in a different direction entirely. As expected, there are a couple of bad deleted scenes in there as well, including an alternate ending that is just plain silly and really didn’t belong with a movie that, for the most part, treated it’s twists and turns pretty intelligently. Separate from the deleted scenes is a “hilarious unrated gag reel”, which lives up to its name by being pretty darn hilarious. It’s not only made up of outtakes, but alternate unused takes which provide a lot more of the humor then seeing people screw up. Chris Marquette in particular has some great alternate (probably ad-libbed) takes to some of his scenes.
Speaking of Chris Marquette, he is the highlight in one of the DVD’s featurettes: “The Eli XXXperience”, which is probably the best part of the “Unrated Edition”. Marquette, as his character Eli, along with director Luke Greenfield and Matt "Horsu" Wiese (who plays one of the best minor characters in the movie - Mule) go to a porn trade show and play practical jokes on innocent passers-by. Whether it’s Wiese just asking men passing by if he can make love to them, or pulling a switcheroo on the casting couch... er, bed, the whole featurette is gut-bustingly funny. The best thing is, it isn’t a completely random extra. It’s very in character for Marquette’s Eli. “The Eli XXXperience” goes in my book as one of those few featurettes that will see repeated play - possibly more then The Girl Next Door itself.
The second featurette, “A Look Next Door” is more traditional, taking a look behind the scenes of the film. It really doesn’t offer much in the way of insights, basically just talking a little bit about casting and regurgitating the plot of the movie as told by the different actors. If you’ve already watched the movie then the featurette isn’t going to offer much, although it does give a glimpse at the fun the cast and crew had making the film. It’s probably the most useless extra on a disc full of some really fun extras, which probably makes it seem even more useless since it doesn’t live up to the rest of the disc.
One of the newer trends to hit DVD is scene specific commentary which pulls a few select scenes out of the movie and allows cast or crew to comment on them. For this DVD Emile Hirsch and Elisha Cuthbert comment on 4-6 scenes apiece. As is typical for scene specific commentary, the commentary is a little dry, starting abruptly and ending before the actors really get a chance to get going. It’s a bit annoying to me - if you’re going to get commentary from someone you should just let them do the whole film instead of cutting it to a few select scenes that are awkward out of the context of the film. Despite that, both Hirsch and Cuthbert manage to offer a few tidbits of cool information during their commentary, whether it’s Hirsch talking about how he almost didn’t get the role (because he looked too evil) or Cuthbert talking about she didn’t want to do nudity, but was willing to “go further then she had before”. Maybe it was just me, but the impression seems to be given by Cuthbert’s commentary that there is more between her and Luke Greenfield then just a director/actress relationship. She seems to affectionately refer to him as “Luke” frequently, talking about how much time they spent together making sure the character wasn’t anything she was uncomfortable, etc. Maybe it’s just the way Cuthbert comes across though. For me, this extra could have been improved by making it a full length commentary, or by allowing Hirsch and Cuthbert to comment together, rather then separately.
A photo gallery and trailers for The Girl Next Door and a couple other Fox pictures round out the extras of a really excellent release. While I could care less for the “Unrated” bits, thanks to some really cool featurettes and extras that actually feel like something worth spending time watching, The Girl Next Door: Unrated Version gets high marks from me, and earns its place in my DVD library.