We're all relatively acquainted with the slew of coming-of-age teen comedies wherein implausibly attractive high school students overcome the bounds of social status, find love and provide a fortune cookie-sized moral to the tune of "Teenage Wasteland." The recipe works, though it usually makes for movies so saccharine that diabetics crumple to the floor of America's movie theaters. One might walk into the theater expecting just that from The Girl Next Door but will likely come away surprisingly satisfied and not in a sugar-induced shock.
If you've seen the early trailers for the film, you're probably expecting The Girl Next Door to be another burgeoning American Pie franchise. However, once you've seen the movie, there is the distinct feeling that it's not geared toward high school teenagers. According to the film's director, Luke Greenfield, the filmmakers "always wanted to make it R-rated, and we knew we didn't want to make a teen comedy. We wanted to make a film about risk and experience."
With films like Jonathan Demme's Something Wild as his inspiration, Greenfield was out to connect with the bigger audience from their late teens to age 40. Part of the film's appeal to the larger audience is its down-to-earth, decidedly non-epic conflict. "If I didn't have you there, you'd say, 'big deal ...there are a lot bigger problems ....' But the brilliance of films like Risky Business is, you look at the movie, what's the conflict? He's going to get in trouble with his parents." And everyone, no matter his age, can relate to that.
Some of the standard teen movie devices are nonetheless thrown in. There's the traditional cool-kids house party, the geek trinity and probably most importantly, the spinning 360 degree kiss shot. But the movie isn't simply a vehicle for these tried-and-true conventions. Though set in a high school, the film is about decisions that transcend that environment, and the beauty of Greenfield's approach is that he doesn't go about it in a heavy-handed way.
This brings us back to how the movie has been sold. Unlike in his debut feature, The Animal, Greenfield has been "hands on from the very beginning." He wasn't involved in the marketing, but now he's "trying to cut my own trailer, my own TV spots." According to Greenfield, the studio would watch the dailies during the shoot and ask, "What is this?" Perhaps the reason the film is being marketed this way is that the studio still doesn't understand it. Those who believe the ads and go in expecting a trite teen sex comedy may be very pleasantly surprised by how intelligent and unconventional The Girl Next Door actually is.