Be warned: The Boy Next Door is not a film that any discerning critic would qualify as good. The gender-reversal Fatal Attraction plot is as silly and contrived as it is unoriginal, the acting leaves much to be desired, and not even a bunch of shoe-horned in explosions and car chases (Rob Cohen also directed The Fast and the Furious – maybe it’s in his contract?) can maintain suspense for longer than a quick and easy jump scare, of which there are many to pump up the preposterous final act.
But in spite of all that, I love this movie. I love it in the same way that I love Showgirls, The Room, The Happening, The Wicker Man, and the best Lifetime original movie, Cyber Seduction. Unintentionally or not, The Boy Next Door is hilarious.
We open with our protagonist, Claire Peterson (Jennifer Lopez), contemplating her separation from cheating husband Garrett (John Corbett) whilst going for a run. (Side note: How many films open with the main character running? Seems like a lot). She teaches AP English at the same high school where her son, Kevin (Ian Nelson), is a junior and her best friend, Vicky (Kristin Chenoweth), is vice principal. Claire and Kevin live in a gorgeous two-story house that Garrett visits from time to time, but Vicky repeatedly reminds Claire that he should never move back in because he is “bad” for her. Oh Vicky, if only you knew what was coming!
Claire is a beautiful, feisty book nerd and therefore easy to root for. When she goes on a doomed double date opposite a pockmarked financier who scoffs at the idea of high schoolers learning the Classics, claiming that “learning how to make money” is what’s most important, she snaps back, “J.K. Rowling: billionaire, Classics major.” Hey-yo!
She meets hunky next door neighbor Noah (Ryan Guzman) when she is trying to lift her broken garage door and he comes to her rescue. Noah has a raging Oedipus complex that a Greek Classics expert like Claire should have spotted from a mile away — run, Claire, run! — but instead she takes a shine to him, thrilled that he professes to love The Iliad as much as she does. Never mind that Noah is an orphaned teenager, living with an old, sick uncle who conveniently disappears halfway through the film. Never mind that Noah showers Claire with inappropriate compliments and that she responds inappropriately as well; I assume because it must feel nice to be called “beautiful” and “sexy” after your husband has cheated on you and your marriage is disintegrating.
After the bad date with literature-bashing guy and maybe half a glass of wine, Claire decides that going over to Noah’s house in a rainstorm to help him bake a chicken is a good idea. Spoiler alert: It’s a very bad idea. They have a one-night stand, she regrets it, and he becomes bunny-boiler obsessed with her.
The biggest problem with The Boy Next Door is not Lopez’s performance, although anyone expecting her to be just as much of a badass here as she was in Enough will be sorely disappointed; nor is it screenwriter Barbara Curry’s conflation of Kevin’s “allergies” with the symptoms of asthma, because I suppose that watching Kevin use his inhaler when he’s having an attack is not as exciting as watching Kevin get stabbed in the leg with an EpiPen. No, the worst and best part of The Boy Next Door is the boy himself, or rather, the man.
Noah is supposed to be “almost 20,” but looks about the same age that Guzman is in real life, which is 26. Of course, this significantly lessens the creep factor between him and Lopez, but the very idea of Guzman being in class with these other high school kids, not to mention being viewed through the lens of a Mary Kay LeTourneau situation, is laughable. He also vacillates between understated menace (“I’m not following you, Claire; I live next door,” he monotones) and a broad, comic book villain-based approach (“I loved my mother!”); and neither works, whether that is because of his lack of acting ability, a lack of direction, or both.
The Boy Next Door is billed as an “erotic thriller,” but it’s really more of a midnight movie-slash-camp classic in the making. And perhaps nowhere is this campiness more evident than in the following scene between Noah and the Petersons at the dinner table, which also happens to be the best scene in the film:
Noah: Hey Mrs. Peterson, tell ‘em what happened this weekend?
Garrett: What happened?
Claire: Oh, there was a big thunderstorm. You guys didn’t get it up there?
Garrett: No, dry as a bone at the lake.
Noah: Well, it got pretty wet here.
Kevin: Do you want to take a cookie for the road?
Noah: Oh, I love your mother’s cookies.