Tuesday, April 20, 2004

The Girl Next Door

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 19 April 2004 at Loews Boston Common #9 (first-run)

I like the stars of this movie. Emile Hirsch has been good in a couple recent movies; Elisha Cuthbert is young and sexy and likable on 24 even though the writers haven't known what to do with her character for roughly a year and a half. Chris Marquette is great on Joan Of Arcadia and a ton of fun here. The rest of the cast is a solid group of relative unknowns.

And it starts out pretty well. The opening bit is a little overdone (when a montage is two pop songs long, it could probably use cutting), but it outlines the basics of Matthew Kidman (Hirsch) - he's a high achiever who has never, oddly enough, done anything memorable. That's about to change, though, when Danielle (Cuthbert) moves in next door.

The trailers and ads have already publicized her secret, so it's not giving anything away to say she's been working in adult movies the past two years. And that's where the movie has its big problem. It never manages to settle into its relationship with the porn. On the one hand, it's something Danielle is trying to get away from, and a number of the people involved are portrayed as thoroughly reprehensible. On the other hand, Danielle doesn't seem particularly damaged by her time in the business, Kidman's best friend Eli (Marquette) watches a whole lot of it and wears a Vivid Video cap throughout the movie. Now, even though there's a good chance my mother is reading this, I'll say it's probably fair not to portray the industry as inherently evil; the folks involved are human and many are probably professional in conduct. But if a good chunk of the motivation for what goes on in the movie is that Danielle is better than her adult-movie past, it's peculiar to embrace it at the same time.

The movie does work as a teen-twenties romantic comedy, though. Matthew and Danielle are likable sorts, and they're well-played by the actors. The story takes place in a pretty brief time-frame, which requires them to fall for each other quickly. It's an easy sell, though, and interesting in how they reverse the typical gender roles - here, it's the more experienced young woman who is won over by the younger guy's innocence. Their relationship is, if not low-key, far from overwraught. There's a sense that they like each other beyond the movie's need for them to be in love at first sight.

I suppose part of my disappointment is that the movie seems like it could be better. There's a nifty scene toward the beginning where Danielle is drawing on a placemat with crayons, and it feels like that should mean something, that she's been taken advantage of or that she's trying too hard to recapture what she was like when she was Matthew's age. It winds up being just a nifty scene not connected to anything, like a lot of the movie. There are more than a few funny scenes, but there are also a lot that are only funny if you don't judge what the characters do, even though that judgment is implicit in the movie.

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