The Girl Next Door. Twentieth Century Fox presents a film directed by Luke Greenfield. Written by Stuart Blumberg, David Wagner and Brent Goldberg. Running time: 110 minutes. Rated R (for strong sexual content, language and some drug/alcohol use). Starring Emile Hirsch, Elisha Cuthbert, Nicholas Downs, Timothy Olyphant, Chris Marquette, Paul Dano, James Remar, Jacob Young.

Girl Next Door, The

It would be hard not to like The Girl Next Door, a charming and good-natured (if raunchy) teen comedy. And it isn't hard to discern exactly why it is so successful: it is the rare teen movie that manages to be funny and sincere at the same time. Even American Pie, good-natured though it is, resorts to lowest-common-denominator style gross-out humor when things get silly. But while The Girl Next Door has its share of adult situations, there isn't an "eww" moment to be found.

Matthew (Emile Hirsch) is a high school senior, the president of the school government and an all-around nice guy. He's recently been accepted to Georgetown University, and is a finalist for a scholarship. But when he goes to fill out his yearbook quote, "What I will never forget about high school is...", he realizes he doesn't have a single great memory, because he hasn't taken enough chances or done anything outrageous. All this changes when Danielle (Elisha Cuthbert) moves in next door. When Matthew get caught watching Danielle undress, she embarasses him by forcing him to strip in the middle of the street. They begin to spend time together, and soon they are going out. Their relationship is handled with a deft touch by director Luke Greenfield, and it is - surprisingly - one of the most believable and touching screen relationships in recent cinema.

Their first kiss stands out strongest. Matthew and Danielle are at a high school party. Matthew has been told to leave, and Danielle is being talked up by a jock. We witness Matthew as he decides what to do, as he silently contemplates his decision, before strolling up to Danielle and just doing it. Not only is this a great bit of physical acting on the part of Emile Hirsch, but also one of the most magical screen kisses in years. It is at once familiar and entirely new, just like the whole first half of the film, none of which feels like anything we've seen before.

It is this refusal to conform to familiartity that makes much of The Girl Next Door such a transcendent experience. Even the things that come between the couple seem fresh. Matthew is informed by his friend Eli (Chris Marquette) that Danielle is an ex-porn star. When Matthew confronts Danielle with this information, the resulting scene is truly affecting. The situation only gets worse when Kelly (Timothy Olyphant), Danielle's ex-boyfriend and producer, comes into the picture. He wants to get Danielle back into the biz, and he isn't exactly appreciative of Matthew's efforts to keep her out.

I wish there were less contrivances and plot holes in the final forty minutes of the film, but I'm more than willing to forgive the film its excesses. Even the most outrageous twists are acceptable when backed by the script's clever jokes and the charming cast.

Emile Hirsch, so good in 2002's The Emperor's Club, is one of the best young actors working, and this film gives him a chance to really shine. He makes Matthew into a truly likeable individual. One scene in particular (a pitch-perfect sequence in which Matthew goes to his scholarship dinner while high on Ecstacy) displays Hirsch's sizeable comedic skills. The drop-dead gorgeous Elisha Cuthbert (TV's 24) is unbelievably charming. The supporting cast is equally strong. Timothy Olyphant bites into his character's sudden mood changes with aplomb; he can be at once kind and terrifying. Chris Marquette is hilarious as Matthew's friend Eli.

Don't let the pathetic television ads turn you off; The Girl Next Door is one of the best movies in its genre, and an early contender for my end-of-the-year top ten list. Sincere, charming and funny, it is not to be missed.

© 2004 Matt Noller