Truly breathtaking moments in cinema are few and far between. Keyser Söze. A Lubezki long take. The pool scene in Showgirls. They’re what we hope for from going to the movies, though common sense tells you not to go looking for them in January.
Well, I’m here to tell you that there’s one out there right now, and it’s almost certainly playing at a theater near you. It’s in the Jennifer Lopez thriller The Boy Next Door, and it is glorious.
In the movie, J.Lo, achieving high levels of buff and polish while sporting nerd glasses, plays Claire, a high school classics teacher. Claire has a one-night stand with the mysterious “boy” next door, Noah, played by Ryan Guzman. Part of the attraction is that Noah (not a boy at all but a man, honey, 19 and hot) loves the classics, too! They have some groundbreaking debates about Hector and honor and how classic rock is also full of poets, like Dylan and Led Zeppelin.
And then, the moment arrives—the moment when the movie spreads its wings and reveals its truest self: Noah gives Claire a gift. A first edition of the Iliad.
The Iliad. By Homer. A first edition. Just a totally normal thoughtful gift from one classics geek to another. A pristine hardcover that looks like those Jane Austen Penguin Classics they sell at Urban Outfitters. “It must have cost a fortune!” Claire coos. My friends and I screamed in delight.
Surely such a perfect F-you to the audience belongs in a Lars von Trier film, not a camped-up Fatal Attraction remake from the director of The Fast and the Furious. Yet there it is, presented with a completely straight face—as amazing as the mini-replica of the Parthenon you can see in the wide shots of Claire’s desk. (I can hear the art director now: “It’s old. She likes old stuff, I guess.”)
Maybe the filmmakers assumed we’d think it was the first English-language edition of the nearly 3,000-year-old epic poem. But do they mean the 1581 edition translated by Arthur Hall of Grantham? Or George Chapman’s later, more popular translation, the one by which most 17th-century English speakers came to the poem? They just don’t explain. And in a movie where so many things don’t make sense (How would Claire have enough food for a surprise dinner guest if she’s making steak and corn on the cob? Why do they take such pains to avoid showing Claire’s breasts but have no problem displaying the breasts of a high school girl? Do allergies really work like that?) the scene feels like both a giant middle finger and a sincere high five to a certain kind of delighted bad-movie aficionado. I accept both. Thank you, The Boy Next Door, for the kind of moment only the cinema can deliver.