At last, we've reached it: the MILF stage of Jennifer Lopez's career. If you have eyes and the sense of what must happen to keep sex selling, you predicted this. However, practically none of us could have predicted that Lopez would reach this rite of passage via the heaping serving of frequently nonsensical pulp that is The Boy Next Door, a domestic thriller with erotic-thriller aspirations directed by Rob Cohen (The Fast and the Furious) and written by former lawyer Barbara Curry. But like a celebrity who must continually acknowledge her ass that just won't quit, this movie is what we have to work with.
Jennifer Lopez's character Claire Peterson is as sharp as a person can be portrayed in a dumb movie, though this matters not at all because she suffers immensely for a slight lapse in judgement. Really, what she's paying for is having sexuality at all. Curry's script boorishly absolves Claire of mortal sin by establishing early on that her husband has cheated on her. She's already separated from him when the aesthetically flawless, stud god Noah (Ryan Guzman) moves next door to take care of his sick uncle. "I can fix that for you if you want," are Noah's first words to Claire, as he comes to her assistance while she struggles to lift her broken garage door. ("Men: can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em!" is the caption on the Cathy cartoon rendering of this scene.) Masculinity compels him to aid her, or so traditional gender roles would have us think. Noah is 19, as a conversation with Claire's son Kevin (Ian Nelson) soon reveals. So know that even though she's going to have sex with him, she's not an adulterer or a pedophile, got it?
And yet, she's a bad girl. Sorry, woman. Sorry, mom. Complicating matters is that Noah is set to enroll at the high school where Claire teaches. No matter; Claire lusts after Noah, surreptitiously peering at him naked in his room, and leaning out of her window to openly stare as Noah and Kevin work on a car in the driveway below. Noah's so masc and the entire setup is so reminiscent of a Coke commercial from the early '90s that fucking seems like the next natural step.
And so it is. When Claire's estranged husband and son are out of town, Noah calls over Claire to his uncle's house to help him cook a chicken (not a euphemism, although...). Domesticity compels her to aid him. He lays it on thick during dinner, calling her "sweet, matured, sexy—so sexy." "Noah!" she purrs back. He begins to kiss her body passionately while she murmurs things like, "I can't do this," and "It's wrong." Eventually she stops murmuring and gives into passion. His hands move down the shape of her underwear-clad ass for what feels like a stretch of minutes. He removes his shirt to reveal predictably perfect abs. He eats her out. He mashes her breast in his hand, like he's crumpling a piece of paper, as they fuck.
The next day, Claire comes to her senses. Noah refuses to accept this as a one-night stand (whoa, gender-role reversal!). He acts out in progressively insane ways that include showing up to her house and lingering while her husband is over (that's enough to make a woman drop the pie she just baked!), forging his way into Claire's class on Homer, following her in his car, taking part in a montage full of boxing, brooding, and Dutch angles, writing "I FUCKED CLAIRE PETERSON" on a bathroom wall, and filling her classroom with hundreds of copies of a still that comes from a sex-tape he made the time the two of them fucked, just before her class is set to begin.
Watching Claire scramble to keep this all a secret as it gets harder and harder amounts to a sort of psychological torture porn. And then in its final act, The Boy Next Door turns into actual torture porn. A sustained closeup on an eyeball mutilation is the Hostel-esque climax's centerpiece. When Kristen Chenoweth (the sassy principal of the school at which Claire teaches) was clobbered on the head, the audience I sat amongst cheered. (At this point, the friend I saw this with mouthed, "Why are they cheering?" "Well, she is awfully annoying," was my guess.)
By the time its brutal climax arrives virtually out of nowhere, we're already used to The Boy Next Door's hilarious insanity. For example, it makes no sense that Noah hangs out with Ian, who's several grades younger than him, bullied by a kid who looks like Ed Sheeran, and allergic to bee stings. Noah doesn't have time for some pipsqueak—he has a tremendous body to maintain, for one thing. And yet, Ian is his only friend. I watched the first half of the movie thinking maybe they were going to fuck. Wouldn't that be something coming from the boy next door?
It makes no sense that we see Noah's uncle precisely twice: once for the sake of exposition, once for the sake of a jump scare.
It makes no sense that when Claire breaks into Noah's house to delete the sex-tape file from his computer, she does so by selecting the "Secure Empty Trash" option on his Mac.
It makes no sense that Noah was able to forge his way into Claire's classroom and that her initial confusion over this confuses no one else.
It makes no sense that Claire puts up with this abuse instead of just confessing immediately.
It makes no sense that Noah gives Claire a "first edition" of The Iliad.
Claire is a character whose behavior serves the movie's moral far better than its plot. Through Claire, we get a lesson on what happens when a woman—even a well-behaved one who isn't technically cheating on her husband with a kid who isn't technically a child—goes slightly astray and gives into lust. The Boy Next Door is as hypocritical as a pulp novel, wooing you with sexuality and then punishing you for having impure thoughts with a sex-negative message. And—spoiler alert—once the family is back in place, the movie ends abruptly. "Was it all worth it to get to this point?" is a question that everyone should be asking themselves: the characters, the audience, and especially Jennifer Lopez.