The Girl Next Door (2004)

<strong class="MovieTitle">The Girl Next Door</strong> (2004)

(On TV, July 2013) I’m hardly the first person to comment upon the strange twisted relationship that American culture has with the pornographic industry (or sex in general): Any examination of the topic ends up revolving around a mixture of fascination, shame, immature comedy and half-veiled condemnation.  The Girl Next Door isn’t different, as this story of a high-school senior teenager falling for a porn star neighbor seems to borrow from John Hughes’ classic comedies (but even more so from Risky Business), even as it tries hard not to condone actual pornography.  It portrays porn as something both irresistible and immoral, the end message being that good guys (and girls) don’t really go all the way.  (Nearly a decade after release, The Girl Next Door’s biggest laugh is now completely at the film’s own expense: it’s the idea that a soft-core sex education film could sell widely to teenagers given the wide availability of hard-core content on the internet.)  Emile Hirsch is sympathetic as the all-American good kid while Elisha Cuthbert gets to smile and look pretty as the porn star (but never takes off her clothes; see “good girls don’t really go all the way” above), but it’s really Timothy Oliphant who steals the show as a porn producer who comes to ruin the hero’s life: it’s a fearless portrayal, and one that’s almost entirely magnetic despite the character’s menace.  By the usual standards of teenage sex comedies, The Girl Next Door is a mark above the rest of the pack: it’s well put-together, relatively amiable and has a heart where many similar film only have dirty thoughts.  Still, the ending half-hour shows the complex hoops a “safe” mainstream film aimed at teenagers must jump through in tackling pornography.  Now the question becomes: if the same premise was developed in 2014, would it make a difference?  One element of the answer: Watching this film on AMC is a strange experience, as much of the foul language is bleeped off… despite the film’s subject matter and occasional nudity.

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