THE BOY NEXT DOOR’s PLOT SUMMARY:
Claire Peterson (Jennifer Lopez) is still reeling after her husband’s (John Corbett) infidelity when handsome young Noah Sandborn (Ryan Guzman) moves in next door. An attraction quickly forms between them, but when they finally act on their feelings, Claire regrets it immediately. Noah doesn’t forget so easily and his behavior turns dangerous as he tries to convince her to give him another chance.
Outside of a few rom-coms, Jennifer Lopez has been absent from movie screens for a few years. With The Boy Next Door, which she also produced, she makes her return. From the outside, it may seem like an odd choice for a star of her calibre. It’s a silly B-movie at best and pretty close to ground she covered in 2002’s Enough. The difference here (and perhaps the reason the now 45-year-old star chose it) is that the set up is every older woman’s fantasy.
Facing a life of single motherhood and divorce, Claire Peterson needs a confidence boost. Enter Noah Sandborn in all his muscular, helpful glory. Guzman–best known for starring in the last two Step Up movies and less so for MMA fighting before that–is perfectly suited to play the fetishized object of her affection. He appears muscles first and the camera lingers on them before moving up to dazzle us and Claire with his smiling, handsome face.
After establishing that Noah is just over 18, the movie works hard to make him seem like just the man Claire needs. He helps around the house, he takes her son Kevin (Ian Nelson) under his wing, he stares at her intensely as he delivers compliments that leave her flustered yet flattered—it’s no wonder Claire takes to ogling his too-perfect body through any and all windows. For his part, Noah seems both aware and proud to catch her eye. There’s a quiet charisma and confidence to Guzman’s performance and his somewhat stilted line deliveries help rather than hurt. There’s something almost too-calculated about his behavior that’s easy to ignore when it’s in service of seducing Claire.
And what a seduction it is. People in movies never have sex anymore. Well, they do, it’s just that the camera cuts away after a few passionate kisses and leaves the rest to the audience’s imagination. Not so with The Boy Next Door. The camera makes that classic move behind a doorframe, but instead of cutting away, the next shot goes even closer. We get extreme close-ups of groping hands and gasped breaths as Noah makes Claire feel like a woman again. It is, to put it mildly, super hot. It’s easy to understand why Noah gets obsessed. The whole premise wouldn’t work otherwise.
The two actors are so strong in the scene and in the rest of the film (especially in comparison to Lopez and Corbett’s chemistry) that it’s easy to imagine the better movie that could have been made if Noah didn’t have to go crazy. Why can’t JLo just have a fun little fling with Ryan Guzman without being punished for it? Because monogamy and the family unit always wins in Hollywood, that’s why. But except for a throwaway line about the indiscretion making Claire realize how much she missed her marriage, the movie doesn’t take the time to explain her abrupt, post-coital change of heart. Instead, it moves right into Noah’s crazy villain phase.
It’s a sloppy transition, but the thing is, the movie doesn’t really seem to aspire to be any good. Sure there are attempts at complexity and intelligence (i.e. Noah’s obsession with the classics is an obvious way of accentuating how Oedipal his obsession with Claire is), but it seems more concerned with playing out the tropes audiences expect to see in this type of story. However, to its credit, at least it pushes those tropes to their extremes. When Claire and Noah’s final showdown comes, the movie goes full on. Not to spoil the ending’s insane delights, but suffice to say there’s fire, gun waving and a particularly graphic bit of violence that probably did more to earn the movie its R rating than the sexuality.
At the end of the day, The Boy Next Door isn’t going to win an Oscar. It’s smutty and violent and utterly absurd. But in an awards season filled with existential crises and heavy historical dramas, maybe it’s exactly the fun, sexy break we all need.
By day, Marisa Carpico stresses over every detail of America’s election system. By night, she becomes a pop culture and celebrity obsessive. Whether it’s movies, TV or music, she watches and listens to it all so you don’t have to. You can find her risking her life by reading comic books while walking down the crowded streets of New York City, having inappropriate emotional reactions at her iPad screen while riding the subway or occasionally letting her love of a band convince her to stand for hours on end in one of the city’s many purgatorial concert spaces. You can follow her on Twitter to read her insightful social commentary or more likely complain about how cold it is at @MarisaCarpico.