The Girl Next Door (review)
Little Girl Lost
Stacy Baker is a young woman with, according to one man quoted in The Girl Next Door, a "great personality." Everyone knows what that means, right? That's guy code for "she's a dog."
The strange thing is, Baker -- aka Stacy Valentine -- was voted Best American Starlet in 1998 at the Hot D'Or Awards at Cannes Film Festival. The "great personality" quip comes from a producer of many of the porn movies she has appeared in, and his starlet is in fact a bouncy, bubbly, blond cheerleader type from Oklahoma, a fresh-faced, Barbie-doll sexpot who's the epitome of what men supposedly find attractive. So why does it still feel as if he's putting her down with his comment?
The Girl Next Door, a documentary by Christine Fugate, doesn't offer any astounding new insights into the porn industry, but it is a riveting portrait -- compelling in the same way that a train wreck is -- of a little girl of a woman who's lonely, miserable, and desperate for fame and attention to make up for her appallingly low level of self-esteem.
"I was raised to be a housewife," Baker says of her childhood in Tulsa, and that's what she became at an early age. Her husband "was much like my dad," a violent man she hasn't spoken to since she was 16; "I was scared of him." Hubby introduced her to porn through magazines like Hustler, and encouraged her to send her picture in to one of them -- he, the charming fellow, thought it would be cool to be able to show his friends nudie pictures of his wife in print. His attitude changed rapidly, however, once this fantasy of his actually came to pass, and before long, Baker escaped him by leaving everything she owned behind and heading for the glamour of Hollywood.
Stacy does it all on camera, says porn producer John Gallagher gleefully, which is why he loves casting her in his films, and we start to see why the "great personality" comment feels just as dismissive and disparaging applied to Baker as it is in its typical usage. She will do anything to earn the affection and respect of others, particularly men -- she reveals that in high school she first had sex "because I wanted people to like me." If Baker has any inkling that having kinky sex with total strangers for money might not be the best way to go about making friends and influencing people, we don't get much of a hint of it -- at least not early on in the film, which chronicles two years in Stacy Valentine's rise to stardom. In fact, she seems unaware of her own desperation, seems to really believe that she's happier and better off on her own: when she's horny, she goes to work, and when she wants affection, she tells us nonchalantly, she turns to her cat. She doesn't need anyone else, no she doesn't, not at all.
As bad as the pornmakers who profit from this kind of intense insecurity are the plastic surgeons feeding at the trough as well. Baker -- who had huge Barbie boobs implanted at her then-husband's urging -- decides to go down a size or two, and, what the hell, have some liposuction on her perfectly lovely hips and thighs at the same time. The scene in which her doctor is marking up her naked body with a Sharpie, blueprinting his planned work, is just as revolting as watching a porn director orchestrating a scene: the doctor (male, natch) is treating her like an object, too -- even if it is at her own request -- molding her to a male ideal of perfection. She loves sex, Baker assures us, but you have to wonder why she would then risk, not once but twice, degrading her own sexual response by losing sensation in her nipples, which is a potential side effect of breast surgery. What she experiences obviously isn't as important to her as whether she's the appropriate kind of eye candy for men. And no one around Baker seems to care in the least that she has so little regard for herself.
It's momentarily hilarious to listen to this sweetly naive woman discuss how good she is at sex and detail her many skills in this arena. She explains earnestly how it shows onscreen if you're only doing it for the money, and not because you love sex... and then Fugate cuts to a scene of her choreographing such a spectacular, persuasive, fake orgasm for a film that the producer, watching her, vows that never again will he believe a woman in his bed. Mostly, though, it's pitiable to think that there are people who can fuck on cue and then say with conviction that it's all real.
The Girl Next Door may be the only time Baker has received the kind of caring, understanding, nonexploitive attention she so desperately craves. By the end of the film, I just wanted to hug her and make her a nice cup of tea. Of course, what she really needed was for someone to do that for her years ago.