High school senior Matthew Kidman (Emile Hirsch) is a straight ‘A’ over-achiever, angling for a college scholarship to kick-start his bright future. Yet Matthew is miserable, having never really lived life, until the day he falls for his beautiful, sexy new neighbour Danielle (Elisha Cuthbert). From his bedroom window, he inadvertently spies Danielle stripping down to her cherry briefs, whereupon she glances back. Mortified, Matthew is further chastened when Danielle drives him into the middle of nowhere and strands him, buck naked. Shortly thereafter, they start spending time together. She realises he’s a sweet, caring guy. He figures out she’s sharp, sassy and soulful. Pretty soon they’re in love, but when Matthew’s haplessly horny friends Eli (Chris Marquette) and Klitz (Paul Dano) discover this seemingly perfect “girl next door” is actually a porn star, his sheltered existence spins wildly out of control.
Although this raunchy teen comedy boasts a scenario straight from a high school kid’s wet dream, and features the requisite bare flesh (although none from 24’s heart-meltingly lovely Elisha Cuthbert) it is a disarmingly witty affair, enlivened by a smart script and a streak of genuine sweetness. There are cheerfully vulgar laughs aplenty, yet many stem from lyrical observations about teen dilemmas, sexual honesty and the difference between real morality and merely doing what is expected of you.
Roger Ebert cryptically blasted it as “a nasty piece of work”, but the film skewers Neanderthal notions of sexual conquest right from the get-go. When Matthew stupidly follows Eli’s dubious advice by acting like a jerk and trying to get Danielle drunk, he nearly crushes their romance. He may have been hooked by her dreamy blonde looks (eulogised in slow-motion to the strains of Echo and the Bunnymen’s “The Killing Moon”), but it is how astute Danielle proves, how she challenges and draws out the best in Matthew that convinces him this is love. A fantasy girlfriend she may be, but one aiming for life-affirming romance than crass masturbatory antics. Cuthbert and Hirsch are hugely likeable leads. Their chemistry underlines the most winning comic episode, wherein dosed on ecstasy Matthew makes a complete jackass out of himself at a swanky dinner. Their inevitable sex scene is tender and meaningful, rather than tawdry.
Things take a darker turn once porn producer Kelly (Timothy Olyphant) arrives on the scene, eager to draw Danielle back to her old life. Olyphant switches from easygoing charm to seething menace, without shattering the light-hearted mood. The script cleverly keeps piling the pressure on its young heroes, including a subplot concerning Matthew’s efforts to raise money to bring Cambodian exchange student Sum Yung to America (leading to a groan-inducing, but still pretty funny: “Operation: Get Sum Yung” joke…) that collapses when Kelly absconds with school funds.
Without necessarily endorsing the porn industry, the film takes a non-judgemental view, showing Danielle is eager to leave that life behind, but fretful about finding acceptance in the ‘normal’ world. Matthew’s solution to his money dilemma is satisfyingly naughty and clever and, given subject matter, oddly inoffensive.