Review by Miranda Schiller @mirandadadada
Quoting Homer and repairing garages while flashing his biceps, Noah seems like the perfect distraction for the super-glamourous high school teacher Claire (Jennifer Lopez). She has recently kicked her cheating husband out of her house, but not quite out of her life. Noah, the titular boy next door, is an allegedly 19 year old hunk with a passion for the more violent episodes of the Iliad and great abs, played by visibly 27 year old Ryan Guzman. He has just moved to the undefined Californian suburb where Claire lives in a mini-mansion and spends her evenings grading her classics students’ papers while lounging on the sofa wearing silk dresses and high heels.
Noah clearly has motives beyond a scholarly interest in the classics when he gifts Claire a “first edition” of the Iliad in a scene the film has been heavily mocked for, as the Iliad is over 3000 years old. The mockers however don’t seem to know that much about publishing, as every new translation or annotated version will have a first edition. The book Noah hands Claire looks much older than a 2007 paperback though, and was certainly not “a buck at a garage sale” as he claims.
Soon after Claire gives in and spends a hot night with her implausible literature student; things turn awry. While she is trying to work out whether to forgive her repenting ex-husband and give their marriage another chance, Noah does not accept their affair has ended and tries to infiltrate her life in every way possible. He takes her teenage son to shooting and boxing practice in an attempt to turn the awkward asthmatic kid into a tough guy and sow hatred against his dad and Claire’s ex-husband.
Setting out as a hot, if slightly hot-tempered neighbour with a penchant for silly innuendos along the lines of “I love your mother’s cookies”, Noah quickly turns into a full-blown obsessive psychotic, complete with murder attempts, a basement full of creepy photos, and a history of violent “incidents”. His Homer admiration is very much focused on the honour-driven, father-killing, muscle-twitching aspects of the classic Greek heroes. But this trope is soon neglected by the film, as it turns into a sort of gender-reversed B-movie retelling of Fatal Attraction and firmly settles into thriller mode. But it is so straightforwardly predictable and over the top that its moments of suspense will make you laugh rather than gasp. While it is trashy, it is not outright awful.
The gender reversal adds to the quality of the story, as it avoids the cliché of a weak or crazy woman who needs to be saved. Her guilt about sleeping with Noah in the first place is explored, but it does not change the fact that she is in charge of her story and knows how to defend herself. Her character however is the only one with at least a little depth, everyone else can be summarised in a few words. Noah actually does summarise most of them in a few words, to their faces, just before attacking them. This may be an attempt to add a shade of suburban rebel to him, but only succeeds in underlining how one-dimensional the characters are.
Nonetheless, The Boy Next Door is an entertaining, if silly version on an age-old story of jealousy and obsession, with a little added flavour of female empowerment.
On general release from February 27th.