I’ve been lucky enough to have had some really great things happen in my lifetime. Gay marriage is now legal in 36 states. The United States elected its first black President. This disabled turtle got a LEGO skateboard. But none of that, I mean none of that, compares to the greatness of the day on which I saw The Boy Next Door in theaters. Oh, what a time to be alive!
Despite what you may think, I’m not here to drag you through a hate-review of a movie that received (and deserved) a 12% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. No, that’s not why I’m here. Because while The Boy Next Door may one day rank amongst the worst movies of the century, it will also rank amongst the dearest to my heart. The Boy Next Door was sheer and utter cat vomit, but it was the most thoroughly enjoyable cat vomit I’ve ever willingly paid to eat.
What I’m trying to say is, I loved this movie. I loved every terrible fucking second of it.
I should start by clarifying that I am a historical hater of Jennifer Lopez movies—with the sole exception of Selena, of course. The first movie I ever walked out of was Maid in Manhattan. I was ten years old and I stormed out of my parent’s living room screaming “I’D RATHER STAB MY EYE OUT THAN WATCH ONE MORE SECOND OF THIS GARBAGE!” So trust me, it’s a big deal that I even went to go see this film, let alone that I liked it. (And someone gets their eye stabbed out in The Boy Next Door. So, in a way, it’s come full circle.)
But The Boy Next Door endeared itself to me with some of the most earnest and misplaced effort ever seen on the big screen. Everybody in this movie tried so hard. No matter how ridiculous it got, no matter how dumb, every single person involved in this production said, “I am going to put my heart and soul into my job today.” When a project has been imbued with this much love, you can’t hate on it. You just can’t.
If you’ve seen the amazing trailer, you already know the basic gist: a hot teacher has an affair with a hot student, who then becomes a scary stalker creep. But it turns out, that’s barely the dick-tip of the iceberg. Yes, Claire Peterson (Lopez) is a high school teacher who has sex with a much younger man. But Noah (Ryan Guzman), who first appears as Claire’s friendly neighbor, is twenty years old, not a teenager. And their “affair” is one night of very steamy sex that takes place in the first ten minutes of the movie.
I was disappointed when it turned out Noah wasn’t a child, not necessarily because I wanted to watch a movie about hot-for-teacher teens (necessarily), but because I was actually very interested in the possibility of exploring the circumstances and psyche of those predatory female teachers that seem to popping up in the news in ever-greater numbers. Making Noah an adult, not just legally but by common perception, is a fairly major cop-out on the part of the filmmakers.
So if it’s not about statutory rape, and it’s not about a teacher-student affair, what is it about? Well I’ll tell you: it’s about a batshit crazy psychopath murderer terrorizing Jennifer Lopez. That’s the whole movie. It starts immediately after their sex scene (which is hot hot HOT), when Claire tries to give Noah the classic “this was a mistake” speech, and he breaks his hand against a wall in anger. IMMEDIATELY, without even the slightest flicker of character development, Noah is Jack Nicholson in the last ten minutes of The Shining. He’s Hannibal Lecter wearing a skin mask. He’s Him from The Powerpuff Girls. It’s totally terrifying and also completely ridiculous.
Of course, I say that as if there is any character development in this movie to begin with. There’s not. There’s not even characters, at least not in the sense of “people who have more than one personality trait.” Noah’s trait is “evil.” Claire’s son Kevin (Ian Nelson) is “nice.” Her husband, played by John Corbett, had literally no personality to speak of, so I automatically projected unto him the personality of Aidan from Sex and the City. Claire herself, well, it was hard to tell. J-Lo clearly did a lot of character work as an actress before filming, but beats me what she actually had in mind. Ultimately, her character was “A Mother”, played in the broadest possible strokes.
The only character with any sort of actual dynamism was played by Kristen Chenoweth, as Claire’s best friend and vice principal of her school. She was spunky and sassy. And she gave amazing advice for what to do on a blind date: “1. Laugh a lot. 2. Take off your wedding ring. 3. Give him head.” (HIGHLIGHT FOR SPOILER: She died though 🙁 )
Claire is a high school Classics teacher (a thing, apparently), and so of course there’s plenty of surface-deep literary conversations, mostly surrounding Homer’s The Iliad, which is her omigosh favorite. Noah plays to this by 1. quoting it ominously while staring deeply into her eyes, a lot, and 2. buying her a first edition copy, which I’m not really sure about, seeing as The Iliad dates back to approximately 800 BC, but you know, movie magic. I also consider myself more than passingly familiar with Homer’s works and I gotta tell you, I have no idea where the thematic connection is between The Iliad and The Boy Next Door. But I’m sure there is one, because it gets a blaring reference at every turn.
If you’re a logically-minded person, the way the plot unfolds will probably make your mind implode. Pretty much all of the scary shit could have been prevented with a quick 911 call. Claire’s career is never actually in any jeopardy—again, he’s twenty, he wasn’t her student when they had sex, and her best friend is the vice principal—but of course she can’t see the forest for the big hunky trees. And her other motivation for keeping it all to herself, protecting her husband and son, kinda falls flat when Noah hogties them in a barn and tries to set them on fire.
In the end, there were really only two important takeaways from The Boy Next Door, and they were its leads. Jennifer Lopez is back, baby, and even I have to admit, she is bangin’. Every time she relaxed on the couch with a glass of wine and silky pajamas (at least half a dozen scenes), I couldn’t help but marvel at the amazing shininess of her legs. Does she oil them? Is she just that smooth? Is a PA assigned specifically to shine a flashlight on her perfect thighs at all times? J. Lo didn’t do much in the way of proving herself as an actress, but if she’s prepared to settle into a new kind of sexy, a grown-ass woman kind of sexy, sans the slinky gowns and gemstones, that I can get behind, and I wish her the best in her new MILFtastic career turn.
And then, of course, there is Ryan Guzman, who is nothing short of a revelation. In this dumb movie, in this dumb role, Guzman breaks through like a male Shailene Woodley. He’s handed lines so blunt they could break the most veteran actor, and he hardly bats an eye. “Stop following me!” pleads Claire. “I can’t do that,” says Noah, dark as a brewing storm, “I live next door.” He may be dressed like a Ted Mosby cosplayer (when he is dressed, that is), but we know there’s some deep shit going on behind those bloodlusty eyes. When Ryan Guzman is the next Brad Pitt, he’ll be able to look back gratefully on this as his hilarious breakout role. And I’ll be right there, standing behind the rope at his Hollywood Star unveiling, holding up a sign that says, “I LOVE YOUR MOTHER’S COOKIES.”
Seeing a movie in the theaters is a very particular kind of bonding experience. In the dark, in a room full of strangers, you experience a sense of community that is unlike any other. And when that movie is The Boy Next Door, those strangers become your comrades. You will laugh together, scream together, clutch the hands of perfect strangers as tears roll down your cheeks. I’ve never seen such audience rowdiness that was also so completely welcome. It was like a Rocky Horror screening, where everyone yells at the screen on cue, perfectly in sync without any rehearsal: “JUST CALL THE COPS!” “DON’T KILL AIDAN!” “PUT ON A BRA!” Like soldiers thrust together on the battlefield, the audience members of the Century City AMC Theater 13 at 5:30pm on January 24th have become my family. This review is dedicated to them. I love them. And I love The Boy Next Door. And that’s all I have to say about that.
The Boy Next Door is out in theaters everywhere.