[box cover]

The Girl Next Door (2004)

From the very first scene, as rampaging seniors wreak havoc on Westport High School to the strains of David Bowie and Queen's "Under Pressure," one realizes that The Girl Next Door (2004) isn't going to be your typical high school comedy, despite its back-of-a-matchbook plot summary — class president falls for ex-porn star. And it's that premise, pitched right over home plate in the film's trailer, that probably hurt the overall box-office results, making the picture seem just another raunchy American Pie cash-in, and without any high-profile stars. But if The Girl Next Door didn't connect with audiences on the big screen (taking in a paltry $14 million domestically), it's bound to be saved by home video, which also helped turn Wes Anderson's Rushmore (1998) into a modern classic instead of a theatrical thud. And it's the sort of company director Luke Greenfield's coming-of-age saga deserves to keep, along with another film that transcends its genre, Paul Brickman's Risky Business, and with distinct echoes of both Fast Times at Ridgemont High and The Graduate. It's the difference between movies that are about being young and movies about where youth inevitably ends.

Emile Hirsch stars in The Girl Next Door as Matthew Kidman, an overachiever in Westport, Conn., who's managed to win entry to Georgetown University, thanks to being class president and yearbook editor. But as class president, he isn't terribly popular. As yearbook editor, he finds he's the only student who can't manage to form any personal memories from the past four years. In short, Matthew simply doesn't fit in, and he spends most of his time with his pals Eli (Chris Marquette) and Klitz (Paul Dano), who are equally geeky — Klitz gives new meaning to the term "risk-averse," while Eli spends most of his time absorbing porn videos. But when 19-year-old Danielle (Elisha Cuthbert) moves in to the house next door to Matthew's, he immediately falls for the stunning blonde. She also takes a liking to him, finding his charming, awkward innocence to be refreshing. But it's only a matter of time before Eli picks out Matthew's new girlfriend as a porn star, and he has the videotape to prove it. Matthew's confusion is only exacerbated by the appearance of Danielle's manager, film producer Kelly (Timothy Olyphant), who takes young Matthew under his wing. But Matthew's determined love for Gabrielle comes at a price — realizing Matthew won't go away, Kelly proceeds to wreck his reputation, and he steals a $25,000 scholarship account from the young man as well, leaving it to Matthew and Gabrielle to raise the cash in just one weekend. Fortunately, Gabrielle knows a few people who can help.

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If the typical teenage comedy is played strictly for laughs and a bit of storybook romance, those that stand above the rest do something much more: They use unusual premises to convey very real things about our formative years — so real that they can strike a nerve whether you graduated high school three years ago or thirty. And perhaps the most universal of these is nothing less than sheer boredom, the utter sense of stagnation that strikes college-bound seniors who are ready to embrace the risks and rewards of an emerging adulthood but remained confined, if only for a matter of a few more months, in the endless corridors of overcrowded public education. Like Risky Business, The Girl Next Door taps in to the most fundamental of male fantasies at this time: Sex. Lots of it, with a hot trophy chick who would make the school's pituitary cases on the football team go weak at the knees. But it's a fantasy that will show its seams, and a proper coming-of-age movie isn't merely about the freedom that adulthood offers, but also the accountability it requires, particularly when young people find they must make serious choices for the first time in their lives. When you're 18, you can have everything you want — and everything you want is about to go horribly, horribly wrong. Despite its sex-comedy gloss, The Girl Next Door is equally reflective and poignant, and with a remarkable cast that makes the film that much more enjoyable, in part because they are largely unknowns. As Matthew, Emile Hirsch captures the part of the everyman loser in a school full of letterman's jackets, almost immediately conveying a sweetness and vulnerability that is lost in a sea of students but comes to the fore when he's alone with Gabrielle — it's a remarkably charismatic performance from a teen actor, matched only by a young Matthew Broderick two decades earlier. Elisha Cuthbert is equally archetypal as the object of Matthew's insistent romance, not only because of her natural beauty, but because she encapsulates the ideal adolescent girlfriend — in every scene she's thoughtful, funny, and challenging, always coming across as the sort of mature, sophisticated female puzzle that every young man feels compelled to decipher. Supporting work is consistent throughout: Both Chris Marquette and Paul Dano complete Matthew's geek-triumvirate with their own distinct personalities, and Timothy Olyphant simply owns every moment he has on screen as the ultra-hip porn-producer who can be the best big brother in the world or a teenager's worst nightmare, depending on his mood. Olyphant is brilliant not just because he can turn on a dime, but also because it seems like we all knew somebody like him when we all were a lot younger.

Fox's DVD release of The Girl Next Door features a solid anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Supplements on Side A include a feature-length commentary from director Luke Greenfield and a pop-up subtitle track that plays throughout the feature, offering both behind-the-scenes notes and general trivia. Side B features include scene-specific commentaries from Emile Hirsch and Elisha Cuthbert, the behind-the-scenes featurette "A Look Next Door" (10 min.), "The Eli Experience," during which co-star Chris Marquette visits the Adult Video News Awards in Las Vegas (8 min.), 16 deleted and extended scenes with director's commentary, a gag reel (3 min.), stills, and trailers. Keep-case.

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