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The Girl Next Door

  • compiled by Jeffrey Overstreet Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2004 1 Jan
The Girl Next Door
from Film Forum, 04/15/04

When a teenager (Emile Hirsch of The Emperor's Club) falls for the ex-porn star (Elisha Cuthbert of TV's 24) next door, he is drawn into a caper that takes him from the corridors of his high school to the lap-dancing rooms of a strip club.

Director Luke Greenfield's film The Girl Next Door is rated-R, but the ads and previews are clearly tempting under-age viewers. Even those old enough to get in to see the movie without a chaperone might need to have their maturity level checked. How many people are really able to laugh about the idea of a high school porn star?

It gets worse. Mainstream press critics are giving the film stronger reviews than any of the other major new releases this week, including a historical epic and an animated family film from Disney. (It's worth noting that they also liked it better than The Passion of The Christ.) Only a few critics are willing to take a stand against such subversive and base material, including Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times).

But religious press critics are unanimous in arguing that this "comedy" is capable of earning only the most unhealthy sort of laughter.

"It's an adolescent male fantasy—the sexy porn star who actually has a heart of gold falls for the nerdy fellow," explains Anne Navarro (Catholic News Service). "She pulls the uptight boy out of his shell, and he helps the fallen young woman find her innocence again."

Does that mean the film is baiting us with bad things only to surprise us with a moral perspective? Hardly. Navarro explains, "The film's conceit is that it wants the audience to believe its tsk-tsk attitude toward the adult entertainment industry. Yet … Greenfield makes certain that the cameras linger longingly over Cuthbert's curvaceous body and features plenty of shots of topless women slinking around steel poles in the scenes at a so-called gentleman's club. While pretending to disapprove of the objectification of women, the movie does the same thing by showing voluptuous coeds giving the high school football team plenty of close-contact attention." She concludes by criticizing the film's poorly written dialogue and stereotypes.

Michael Elliott (Movie Parables) writes, "Porn stars in high schools? An R-rated teenage sex comedy? Is it just me or do these concepts seem more than a little inappropriate?" The message, he says, boils down to this: "'If you find the most important thing in your life, you do whatever you have to do, even if it isn't nice, to hold onto it.' That's having moral fiber? What rubbish."

Bob Smithouser (Plugged In) writes an imagined conversation of the meeting in which the film was pitched. The studio executive is skeptical saying it sounds too much like an update of Risky Business. But the ambitious filmmaker adds up the raunchy elements that will sell the movie to audiences, and in doing so, he persuades the studio. "Your movie sounds like a contemptible piece of lascivious garbage," says the exec, "lacking even a shred of decency or social conscience. It crusades against chastity, glamorizes drug and alcohol use, and will come a hair's breadth from being labeled pornography itself. Furthermore, it sounds like you're exploiting the very objectification of women you pretend to be condemning. It's a shameless rip-off for a generation desensitized by MTV, pay cable, and online porn. So, when do we start shooting?"

Joe Sinko (Christian Spotlight) says the movie "is designed to appeal to the lasciviousness that is running rampant in our culture. It is predictable, awkward, full of profanity and nudity. It pokes fun at the use of Ecstasy, and portrays the majority of high school kids as morally bankrupt. [It] pokes fun at 'normal' kids who are doing their best to get a good education and become contributing citizens in society. It implies that casual sex and pornography are generally harmless things that really hurt no one, and that using drugs will make you funny and enlightened."

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