In theaters Friday, Jan. 23
3 stars (out of 4 stars)
And the Oscar goes to . . . The Boy Next Door!
Those are words you will never hear in your lifetime. But who needs a heavy gold trophy of a naked man anyway? Jennifer Lopez's new thriller is a winner in the highly underrated awards category of Best Campy Picture.
(The word "thriller" is used loosely, by the way.)
This is Lopez's first movie in two years. There's probably a think piece begging to be written as to why a talented and gorgeous 45-year-old actress is relegated to such a menial script. You won't find that here! Instead, let's celebrate the fact that she chose material with significantly more moxie than What to Expect When You're Expecting.
Lopez plays Claire, a new divorcee and mom and English literature teacher at the local high school. Claire is that rare educator who walks around her house in heels and freshly applied lip-gloss and yet still can talk intelligently about the merits of Homer. One bright morning, she and her teen son meet friendly Noah (Ryan Guzman). His parents were killed in a tragic car accident and now he's staying with his ailing, hospital-bound great-uncle — Claire’s next-door neighbor. "I'm almost 20," he tells Claire’s awestruck boy. Perfect.
Claire and Noah strike up a flirtation that's so wrong. And yet so right. After all, it's hard to find a guy who's this gorgeous, caring, handy (he fixes her garage door!), and who can quote the Iliad. And Claire, uh, looks like she could slither around half-naked in a music video about her booty. Which explains why, on a dark and stormy night, Noah calls her and she ends up in his kitchen. It's unclear how he got her cell number, yet never mind that — the seduction is on! "Let me love you," he purrs in her ear. "You don't even need to try to be sexy." If you're curious about the big sex scene . . . yes, it's pretty damn scintillating. And extremely well-lit.
At this point, the film is still your average MILF melodrama. The fun starts when Claire wakes up in shame and wails to Noah that their night of passion was a huge lapse in judgment. Specifically, the fun starts when Noah shows up at Claire's house, eyes a plate of treats, and exclaims to her son, "I love your mother's cookies!"
All the crumbs lead to preposterous — read: deliciously amazing — developments. Noah, you see, has a few screws loose in his beautiful noggin. He doesn’t want to woo Claire anymore; he just wants to play stalker. And while his ensuing actions are illegal and disturbing, the guy does get points for artistic merit. He hacks into her computer and dummies up a letter to the principal to ensure that he’s a student in her class. (He walks in reciting Homer, of course). He spray-paints a profane message about her on a bathroom wall during a school dance. And the piece de resistance: He wallpapers her classroom with X-rated photos.
And yet Claire never alerts the authorities. Apparently, she's got too much to lose — though considering Noah's psychosis and his penchant to twirl around a gun, perhaps the PTA would be a little sympathetic, no? Claire does confide in her best friend — also the school's vice principal (Kristin Chenoweth) — but she doesn't alert the police either. (Not even when he hurls obscenity-laced insults at her). Rather, the two concoct a scheme to steal his laptop, Mission: Impossible-style. Come to think of it, that’s a more entertaining idea than calling the cops anyway.
It's all hilariously ridiculous, but bless J.Lo for trying her mightiest to sell it. If someone's going to bring sultriness to suburbia, it might as well be Jenny from the Block.
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