Cinephilia: don’t be too quick to judge The Boy Next Door


Peer through the curtain and watch as a young stud moves in next door. In the distance, you catch a glimpse of his six-pack abs and underwear bulge. He’s muscular, perfectly toned, and drives a giant truck. When he’s not taking care of his ailing uncle, he spends his spare time repairing dirty, oily cars and broken things around your house. The women in the audience ask themselves: “Could he be any more perfect?”

Claire Peterson (Jennifer Lopez, in a horrendously hilarious performance) is a middle-aged woman living in the suburbs as a single mother to her awkward teenage son. Her husband, Garrett, had an affair with one of his workers in San Francisco. Just as Garrett is trying to patch up his marriage, Noah, the quintessential ladies’ man, moves in next door. Claire becomes enchanted with the handsome young man, despite him being 20 years old and still in high school.

Claire has a lapse in judgment after a few too many glasses of wine, and sleeps with Noah. Afterwards, she ignores that it happened, but Noah becomes obsessed with her and begins to stalk her. What begins with female fantasy ends with female fears.

In The Boy Next Door, Claire is a complex character, while the men that surround her are objects to be looked at; she is the driving force of the narrative, and the men are horny scoundrels who can’t control their libido.

Feminist extremists like Laura Mulvey and radical Marxists like John Berger have proposed the Freudian idea of the male gaze, which satisfies through scopophilia — obtaining pleasure from voyeurism. According to this train of thought, whenever a (heterosexual) man looks at a woman, there are sexual motives and superficial judgments behind the gaze. Mulvey and Berger use this concept to analyze mainstream movies and classic nude paintings. They conclude that women in these art forms are merely objects to be looked at, while the depth and driving of the plot is left to the men.

Certainly there is some truth to what Mulvey and Berger are getting at (think of the women in James Bond movies), but their problem is they take their ideology too far and they forget to recognize the flip side — movies designed for the pleasure of female viewers.

Depending on how you choose to interpret it, The Boy Next Door is either really stupid or a clever reflection on its own stupidity, a cheesy B-movie or a fascinating critique of voyeurism and female fantasy, a family melodrama or a satire on the collapse of suburban life. The material may be trashy, but its unexpected profundity is oddly fascinating. It might even be viewed as a female version of Vertigo, wrapped in the clichés of cheap exploitation films like those of Russ Meyer.

Smartly, the film may be unabashedly using the tropes I think it’s criticizing to manipulate the target audience — certainly the shoddy camerawork and preposterous plotting would naturally lead to this interpretation, yet it may be poking fun at audiences’ willingness to gobble this up.

Whether it’s a clever subversion or a cheesy exploitation film, I was most certainly never bored during The Boy Next Door. Perhaps the best way to describe it is to borrow Michael Dare from Film Threat’s description of a similar film, Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls: “simultaneously the best and worst film of all time.”

This article was previously published in the The Tri-Cities Now.