If you’d told me months ago that I’d actually have enjoyed a film that featured the glorious line “I love your mother’s cookies,” I’d have called you crazy. But here we are, and I’ll admit it: The Boy Next Door is likely some of the trashiest fun you’ll have all year, even if it’s far from a perfect movie.
The Boy Next Door has a pretty basic plot; a divorced woman, Claire Peterson (Jennifer Lopez), has a one-night stand with her younger neighbor, Noah Sandborn (Ryan Guzman), and ends up being harassed and stalked by him. If it sounds familiar, it’s because similar narratives have been dished out for long enough. Even Lopez’s 2002 flick Enough features her in a similar damsel in distress storyline. And yet, writer Barbara Curry and director Rob Cohen have a very different film on their hands, one that strangely has more in common with Joseph Ruben’s early work (The Stepfather anyone?) than it does with something like James Foley’s Fear (a comparison that will undoubtedly pop up).
Most of the time, it feels like The Boy Next Door is geared directly toward educated female audiences who like a little trashy fun at the movies every once in a while. Sure, it drops the ball when setting up and executing most scenes — awkward set-ups and ill-timed dialogue delivery galore — but it’s actually rather adept at scenes of sheer over-the-top humor and violence, as well as placing its leading man on screen. One wouldn’t expect a man like Cohen, known primarily for action films, to present an entire film through a very female gaze, but he does exactly that. The first shot of Guzman is actually just his arm muscles at work. There are multiple shots of Lopez staring wistfully at his body (pre-crazed stalking), and almost all of the film’s nudity is thanks to his body1, with the sole exception being when he has a young woman perform oral sex on him to spite her and she catches them. More interesting though is the fact that during their only sex scene, it shows Claire being eaten out by Noah for quite some time, without Lopez’s body being exposed to the camera. And she enjoys it! This is the same kind of situation that once had Blue Valentine dealing with the MPAA and yet here we’ve got it in a mainstream movie.
On the writing side, it’s interesting to look at what Curry presents with her characters. It doesn’t paint Claire as just a simple housewife, but rather an educated woman who has a passion for Homer and classic literature (although Noah’s interest in The Iliad and Oedipus comes off as nothing but laughable). And as contrived as each plot point is, it’s actually rather interesting to look at the ways Noah tries to take down the women in his life, even Claire, who he so claims to be in love with. Noah’s attitudes toward women aren’t all that different from someone who hasn’t entirely lost his mind; he nearly sexually assaults her for refusing to be with him, he blackmails her with videotapes of their night together, he uses “cunt” as a sharp verbal knife to make Kristen Chenoweth’s typical best-friend character feel powerless. He’s a killer, but he’s one who works under the guise of romance, and that’s not something entirely unfamiliar to women these days considering a lot of recent events.
It’s stuff like this, as well as some beautifully on-the-nose dialogue, that makes you wonder just how self-aware Curry’s script was before the cast managed to get to it. With such a mixed bag of performances and a director who seems to nail some things and fumble miserably with others, it’s hard to tell. If anything, Ryan Guzman is the stand-out of the film (and I say this as someone who actually considers Lopez a talented actress under the right director), handing in a much better handsome-psycho-of-sorts than others typically do. The closest performance that pops into mind, from another film that boasted trashiness but didn’t know what to do with it, would be that of James Deen in The Canyons. Suffice to say, thanks to multiple factors, Guzman takes the cake (and he could certainly feed me some in bed too), even if he’s way older than what the role requires. That being said, if he wasn’t all that old, we’d probably be reminded that this whole movie hinges on a teacher and a student sleeping together, which is a little more uncomfortable than the movie itself makes it seem.
The Boy Next Door doesn’t always care about the consequences of the events it puts into play, nor does it care that a lot of what it’s presenting has been done, is totally predictable, and isn’t quite self-aware enough to be genuinely good. But, you know what, it’s a damn good time at the movies. The moment another critic friend of mine said, “Plot hole: someone cheated on Jennifer Lopez,” when discovering that was the cause of the lead character’s divorce, I knew I was in for some fun. And that’s exactly what The Boy Next Door delivers: trashy delights.
1 Dat Guzman Ass
Directed by Rob Cohen; written by Barbara Curry; starring Jennifer Lopez, Ryan Guzman, Kristin Chenoweth, Ian Nelson & John Corbett; 91 minutes.
The Boy Next Door is currently in theaters everywhere.