28th Feb2015

‘The Boy Next Door’ Review

by Mark Allen

Stars: Jennifer Lopez, Ryan Guzman, Kristin Chenoweth, Ian Nelson, John Corbett, Lexi Atkins, Hill Harper | Written by Barbara Curry | Directed by Rob Cohen

the-boy-next-door-jennifer-lopez

If I tell you that The Boy Next Door has more in common with The Room and Troll 2 than the work of Alfred Hitchcock, would you consider that a good thing? Don’t bother answering because of course you would. Both films are masterworks of a certain kind of tone, and while Jennifer Lopez’s latest acting effort may not ever reach the same cult status of either, I would say it’s more than a worthy successor to their legacy. That legacy specifically being one of films that are received in more or less the opposite way to how their creators conceived.

Going into this film on the premise and trailer alone, I was fully expecting a tedious, melodramatic thriller that builds to a ludicrous climax and happily-ever-after ending I’d seen a million times before. And that’s all The Boy Next Door ever really tries to be. But it’s so much more. I’ll give you only the the most cursory of plot summaries (this is truly a film told in expressions, close-ups of biceps and abrupt shifts in tone, so trivial things like ‘story’ and ‘characterisation’ take a bit of a back seat. J-Lo plays Claire, a high-school literature teacher who’s estranged from her husband and, in a moment of self-confessed weakness, allows herself to be seduced by a teenage neighbour (Ryan Guzman) who recently befriended her dorky son. When she comes to her senses and decides the whole thing was a huge mistake, he begins stalking her.

But that’s all beside the point. The point is that The Boy Next Door possesses some of the most baffling screenwriting and choices in direction I’ve ever seen on film. Perversely, said choices may well have been its only salvation. I get the feeling that this was a passion project for Lopez, being that she’s also credited as a producer and her tryst with young stud Noah is surprisingly graphic (and lasts a full two minutes longer than it should). That said, it’s hard to see what she was so passionate about; was it her cardboard, rom-com friendship with the grating, catty vice principal of her school? Maybe it was the sexual tension between Claire and Noah, which reaches boiling point when they discover their shared love of Homer, Led Zeppelin and Shakespeare? (Noah later gives her a copy of The Iliad, to which Claire exclaims, “It’s a first edition!”) Or perhaps it was director Rob Cohen’s utter lack of subtlety when it comes to directing emotion, J-Lo in her evening attire or general human activity.

The best way I can describe the bulk of the film is that it feels like an extended episode of Desperate Housewives drained of all irony. The Boy Next Door evidently doesn’t take place in anything resembling the real world: characters berate Claire for her shoddy attitude toward schoolwork then cheerily encourage her to “have a great year!”; on a blind date she’s confronted with a chauvinist so blatantly offensive it almost felt like an SNL skit; and her teen son’s romantic tribulations are perfunctory to the point where it seemed they’d simply photocopied the first draft of an unmade John Hughes picture. Poorly.

The final act may be contain the most bizarre tonal shift in a film this year, and I’ve seen Inherent Vice. Noah’s master plan involves taking Claire’s family hostage (in a barn for no reason whatsoever) and going The Full Psycho on her, resulting in an instance of frankly INSANE violence and destruction I didn’t think a film of The Boy Next Door’s seeming banality was capable of. It’s like the director and screenwriter watched all of the Hitchcock and de Palma films they could find up until the last ten minutes at which point someone switched out the final scenes with some of John Carpenter’s schlockiest moments.

I’m going to spoil something right here, because I simply cannot contain my enthusiasm for this movie: it’s a true joy to see Jennifer Lopez stab a man in the eye with a screwdriver only to then have him push her aside and start shooting at people while screaming because he has a screwdriver in his head. That’s not even how he dies! I can’t explain it, but it’s glorious.

…And then the film ends, in true Billy Wilder style (sure, let’s throw another filmmaker into the mix, because who cares about consistency anyway!), as J-Lo and her family huddle together in an ambulance zooming away from the burning barn. “It’s over now,” she coos to her son, presumably referring to the end of the film she’s in and not this horrific chapter of her life in which her livelihood is at terminal risk, her best friend’s been brutally murdered and her philandering husband shot in the chest in front of her.

The thing is, sometimes you don’t need closure of any kind (except the mortal variety). Sometimes it’s better just to come out of a film feeling like you’ve awoken from a fever dream and start to wonder if it wasn’t the most fun you’ve had in ages.

The Boy Next Door is out in UK cinemas now.

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