“I love your mother’s cookies.”
It’s borderline disturbing and disconcerting that The Boy Next Door, an insult to moviemaking, still manages to remain engrossing while being reductively impractical. The housewife Lifetime channel viewership will devour this film. And that’s fine. If empty-headed entertainment satisfies you, is the easy relaxer of choice after a long day, week, month, then go for it. Opposite of that crowd are the uppity film snobs who will dismiss the movie without seeing it, because how could a Jennifer Lopez sexual thriller be considered art? I would encourage both groups to see the movie. From a purely critical standpoint, it’s not good, which oddly enough makes it a little more enjoyable along the way. That doesn’t mean I’ll give it a high rating (which means a lot less than any other part of the review). The Boy Next Door is so awful that it becomes fun. Outrageous situations, characters and dialogue make each cringeworthy moment a condensed, hot-mess romp of uncomfortable laughter.
High School literature teacher Claire Peterson (Lopez), as we’re constantly reminded, is a vulnerable woman. She’s separated but not divorced from her cheating husband Garrett (John Corbett), a decent guy who’s a lousy spouse but an excellent father. Their son Kevin (Ian Nelson) is a computer geek, bullied around in the same hallways that his mother calls her workplace. Can you guess who enters their lives? Who moves into the house next door?
That’s Noah Sandborn (Ryan Guzman), and he’s not a boy. This brawny 20 year-old man wears a plain white tee a-la James Dean, tight enough for a flex to tear the fabric at the seams. He’s handsome, tanned, muscular. A handyman who can fix anything. And he’s an intellectual, quoting from the classics like The Iliad that Claire teaches to her students. It’s an impressive, likable show that he puts on. Kevin’s found a new buddy and Claire doesn’t have to worry about her pipsqueak angel. Her vulnerability, along with Noah’s brash antics and frank behavior, quickly develops into a steamy romance. Like the corny thriller that it is, things don’t stay so sweet and seductive for long.
However attractive he may be, I have to say that Guzman is a horrible actor. Sure, he doesn’t have much to work with as far as the clichéd script goes, but neither does anyone else. His is not a standalone performance of disaster though. Kristin Chenoweth plays Claire’s close friend, the vice-principal, and she’s about as annoying as it gets. Frankly, I didn’t mind when her path crossed with danger’s. J-Lo holds her ground as Claire. Yet she’s not an actress…she is a performer, and there is a lapse in subtlety she doesn’t possess. That doesn’t mean the 45 year-old (who somehow looks not a day over 30) is boring or hard to watch. The blame belongs to screenwriter newb Barbara Curry. She fills her bland situations with unshaped characters who recite – not say – stale lines and phony quips we’ve heard one hundred times before and then some.
Honestly, The Boy Next Door is a campy, low-budget thriller that’s easy to sit through, and at times you’ll wonder where the commercials are. That’s how made for TV it is. Underneath the unoriginal storyline is a deeply sexist thematic tone that’s consistent across cinema. While there is a shock value to an older woman sleeping with a high school senior (I’m sure they made him 20 for a reason), it’s also revolting. Switch around the sexes and you would have a transgressive cult film that only the absurdist John Waters could get away with. A man desiring the girl next door? He’s just an animal licking his chops at the Lolita of his dreams. A vulnerable woman sneaking peeks at the boy next door? All in good fun. In both cases the woman defines innocence and the male embodies lust. 2006’s Notes on a Scandal is the only film I’ve seen on this topic that ignores the limitations of gender identification and shows realistic consequences. The Boy Next Door might seem as congenial and light-hearted as we first think Noah is. But be wary, and use your head, because it’s not. The fall from cloud nine, in the movie’s troubling closeted message and for the viewer, will leave you in a dense fog.
“I will never let you go.”
Rating: 1 out of 5