As we here at GWW reflected on the Red Sox fantastic 2013 campaign, we realized that October 2014 will mark ten years since our beloved BoSox broke the Curse in the fateful fall of 2004. As a result, we felt old. In an attempt to feel even older, we will from time to time remember other favorites celebrating their tin anniversary in 2014. Remember, the next ten years could be even better, but don’t get your hopes up.
“A teenager’s dreams come true when a former porn star moves in next door and they fall in love”
An IMDb description like the one above does not really bode well for a movie’s widespread popularity, or even its quality if we are being completely honest. Based on such a sentence, one may expect a sex-filled romp without much in the way of writing or acting, but that is not actually the case with The Girl Next Door. The movie, which opened ten years ago tomorrow, manages to balance its graphic premise with subtle comedy and a slew of actors who have since proven their immense talent in other work. It grossed only fifteen million dollars in the U.S., and just twice that overall worldwide, but something about the film makes us want to celebrate it (plus we figured you didn’t want to read about the Rwandan genocide starting twenty years ago…).
First, let’s take a moment to appreciate the actors who found their way into TGND only to move forward into impressive and for the most part ongoing careers. Emile Hirsch hadn’t done much of note before playing do-gooder Matthew Kidman, but he moved on to acclaimed performances in Into the Wild and Milk, as well as in this year’s Lone Survivor. He also gains major points from us for playing Clyde Barrow in last years miniseries Bonnie and Clyde. You probably could not have convinced me that the young man playing Matthew’s creepy friend Klitz would become a well-regarded actor, but here we are, with Paul Dano providing great work in films such as Little Miss Sunshine, 12 Years a Slave, and most notably in There Will Be Blood, with an astounding performance that probably didn’t get enough love at the time (Dano’s IMDb page: check it out. He’s already had quite the career, both in indie films and blockbusters).
The Girl Next Door also featured Timothy Olyphant, perhaps for the first time for many people, who has quietly put together a forceful resume, with stellar performances in Deadwood, Damages, and Justified, for which he has garnered an Emmy nomination, while also displaying impressive comedic chops in Archer, The Office, andThe League (Also, you may not have seen it, but he’s great in one of the most under-appreciated horror movies of the last 20-30 years, The Crazies). Finally, there’s Elisha Cuthbert, the “Girl Next Door” herself. Before this role, I think we were all pretty sure she and Kim Bauer were one and the same and unequivocally sucked always (Never before had a television audience rooted so hard for a mountain lion). TGND, however, gave her a chance to show that she could be something more than Jack Bauer’s nuisance of an offspring that you sort of wished had just died in 24‘s first season. Though she is not my favorite aspect of the film, she certainly earned some lenience moving forward.
When it comes down to it, the movie is not really about porn…ok, maybe a little bit about porn, or at least only tangentially about porn, but really TGND gives us a touching story of losers becoming winners without sacrificing their special, strange selves. An archetype we have seen before? Of course, in everything from Revenge of the Nerds to The Bad News Bears, but director Luke Greenfield and his crew managed to present the story in a new, imaginative way. Hirsch’s Matthew isn’t your typical all-out loser; he is a class president on his way to Georgetown, yet like many of his onscreen-loser predecessors, he yearns for more — for popularity and sex appeal. Part of what makes Hirsch so great is the fact that he is very believable as a dorky class president, but he also has the charisma to undermine his ambitious, misguided self. He wants popularity but needs to loosen up, perhaps just a typical modern student instead of a complete loser. Instead of being granted some magical power or physical feature, he gets Danielle, your friendly neighborhood former porn star.
Maybe the movie was simply ahead of its time, poking fun at “helicopter parents” and overambitious college applicants before we knew just how enormous those populations truly are. Regardless, Greenfield succeeded where many other teen movies of the new millennium have failed, crafting a movie that targets teens and their horniness while also conveying incisive messages that stretch beyond traditional teen fare. More than “the good guy getting the hot girl,” TGND reminds us that Matthew has to sacrifice some of that goodness in order to have a good time, and Danielle turns out to be far more than just the hot girl. The movie exaggerates the hottie character stereotype to an extreme only to pull her back into reality, showing us that beneath her sexy, dangerous veneer lies a girl who just wants a chance to go to prom. Matthew’s story may be even more relevant today, as kids strive to fill their college applications with endless awards and accomplishments without recognizing the importance of the “moral fiber” our protagonist journeyed so far to find. For a movie with a premise that undoubtedly made many critics and viewers uncomfortable, there exists within a tremendous amount of soul.
|We still hate Kim Bauer.
The movie ends up not so much a battle of losers versus popular kids but rather losers versus themselves and their discomfort with their budding adolescence. We go from complete ineptitude early in the movie to the three boys showing off their (sexual) confidence by the end of the film, as Matthew walks off with Danielle the girl, not the porn star, and Klitz and Eli (Chris Marquette) realizing their own potential. Olyphant’s creepy Kelly urges Matthew to “know if the juice is worth the squeeze” with regard to chasing after Danielle. By the end, he and his friends realize that it’s not so much about getting it right the first time but instead about being willing to make the squeeze in the first place, for better or worse.