There are a few simple truths about Jennifer Lopez’s new movie, The Boy Next Door.
It is not a good film. In fact, it might just be a horrible film. But there’s a shrewd self-awareness about its terribleness from everyone involved. Because of that self-awareness, this terrible little film starring Jennifer Lopez as a literature teacher (heh!) who has drunken sex with her 19-year-old next door neighbor and is then stalked Glenn-Close-with-a-rabbit style by him might actually be the most entertaining movie I’ve seen in a year, Oscars season be damned.
The Boy Next Door, bad-brilliant as it is, could save Jennifer Lopez’s movie career.
Here’s the thing: While we have all delighted in staring agape at Lopez over this last decade as she has aged in reverse right before our eyes, the truth is that she hasn’t had many recent career successes in that time—especially on the big screen.
It’s been 15 years since she famously cemented her double-threat status as an actress and singer by being the first performer to have the number one film (The Wedding Planner) and album (J. Lo) in the country simultaneously. She’s worked steadily since then and is always in the spotlight with new albums, movies, and her time as a judge on American Idol. But recent failures have indicated that her cultural omnipresence has started to supersede her actual cultural relevance.
Her most recent album, A.K.A., was awful—with the exception of the cheeky (both literally and figuratively) “Booty”—and tanked in sales. She hasn’t had a leading role in a film since 2010’s critically maligned The Back-up Plan, and it’s been a full decade since she released Monster-in-Law, her last film to cross the $50 million mark at the box office.
Lopez’s charisma and potential ensures she’ll always be considered that double-threat. But lately that threat’s been a little empty.
Enter this magical masterpiece of cheesy camp, The Boy Next Door.
The Boy Next Door is directed by Bob Cohen, who famously launched the Fast and the Furious franchise in 2001. The dialed-to-11, over-the-top nature of Boy Next Door hints that Cohen could do for the erotic thriller—and the career of Ms. Lopez—what he did for the street-racing franchise: defy expectations with a guilty pleasure that audiences eat up without a hint of guilt.
The film is out of its mind, replete with jokes about Jennifer Lopez’s “cookies,” a sex scene so long and confusingly choreographed that I became both aroused and intensely curious while watching it, a hyper-violent final act rivaling the most demented of Final Destination sequences, Kristin Chenoweth with a sassy pixie cut doling out wry one-liners, and a line-reading of the words “J.K. Rowling” that will have you standing in applause at the audacity of Lopez’s delivery of it.
And in stark contrast to the aggressive self-seriousness and bloated boringness of Oscar season, The Boy Next Door’s is timed perfectly as brilliant counterprogramming.
Just as there is value in soaking in the artistic merits of whatever three-hour historical drama Harvey Weinstein is assaulting award season with, there is value in having fun at the movies. (Hey, it’s called entertainment. It should be entertaining.) And let me tell you: the audience of predominantly older women I saw The Boy Next Door with was having the time of their damned lives. As was I. It’s hard not to. The Boy Next Door is operatic in its silliness, unapologetic with its camp, shameless in its use of sex and violence, merciful in its brief runtime, and generous in its unobstructed footage of Ryan Guzman’s perfect butt.
Read that last sentence and then tell me with a straight face you’re going to see The Imitation Game this weekend instead.
Current industry predictions peg The Boy Next Door to open with just under $20 million this weekend—a more-than-solid debut for a film that Lopez, who is also a producer on The Boy Next Door, has called a “micro-budget” thriller made for just $4 million. I suspect the box office might even be higher, with a palpable sense of enthusiasm building for Lopez’s movie from people who seem to be craving all the campiness that The Boy Next Door delivers.
That enthusiasm is a big deal. When was the last time someone was actually excited about a J. Lo film? Perhaps you were excited about What to Expect When You’re Expecting. Perhaps you Just Could Not Wait to see The Back-up Plan. I suspect that you had no idea that either of those films existed.
It’s rare these days for a movie star to be “bankable”—the draw that’s actually getting butts in theater seats and money spent on tickets. The rise of franchises and brand names as the true stars of films certainly speaks to that, as does the depreciation in value of marquee talent like Will Smith, Tom Cruise, and the like. Yes, audiences might be ready to bask in The Boy Next Door’s sexiness and cheesiness and camp. But the fact that Lopez, who can be so good when she lets loose in an acting performance, is the one starring in it is the film’s biggest selling point.
What’s more, for how silly The Boy Next Door—and boy is it silly—there’s actually something quite progressive about it.
Yes, Jennifer Lopez is sexy as hell in it. Her body has never looked better, and, now 45, she hasn’t aged a day in 20 years. But the film flips the script by turning the dude into the sociopathic stalker—the deranged archetype who becomes hooked on a paramour after one quick tryst. And while the film’s epic sex scene provides ample glimpses at Lopez’s famous derriere to gaze at, it’s her co-star, Guzman, who is offered up on an over-sexualized platter, whose body is exploited in unnecessary (and thoroughly enjoyable) skin-baring scenes throughout the movie.
It’s a Hollywood reversal that’s all the more potent in the wake of the divine Ms. Lopez’s appearance on Ellen this week, in which she addressed rumors that she’s dating 27-year-old Guzman (she’s not) and whether that would make her a “cougar” (it wouldn’t).
“I hate that they have a label for a woman who would date a younger guy. If a younger guy is interested in you, what’s the big deal? But what’s the name for an older guy who’s after younger girls?” Lopez said. “I’m not after younger guys; if younger guys like me, that’s one thing, but guys who just go after younger women—they have no label! There’s just a little bit of an imbalance there. It’s not fair.”
Jennifer Lopez, secret feminist? I’m on board. And you should be, too. Just on board with Jennifer Lopez, in general, because as she’s proven time and again over the past few decades (it’s been that long!) she is a force of nature with an indomitable will and, clearly, no qualms about taking risks if it means her career could benefit from it.
Think about it: Selena, Anaconda, The Wedding Planner, Maid in Manhattan. We’ve never really cared if J. Lo’s movies were good. They mostly have never been. We just care that they’re fun to watch, because she’s fun to watch. The Boy Next Door, masterfully horrendous as it is, might be the most fun she’s had yet.