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Porn documentaries all really have the same basic things to say: the business isn’t a pretty one, it takes a heavy toll on those involved and the people involved often are grappling with demons. So why is this genre such a fascinating one? Because of the personalities. The porn business never fails to draw in interesting characters and each one responds to the rigors of the business in an interesting and personalized way.

And The Girl Next Door has an interesting character in Stacy Valentine. The product of divorced parents (including a scary dad), she entered marriage quickly after high school and her domineering hubby talked her into sending in nude pix to a porn magazine contest. Not only did she win, she discovered a whole new world of excitement that she soon craved. She ditched her by-then resentful hubby and moved from Omaha to the San Fernando Valley.

As The Girl Next Door begins, Valentine has established herself as a prominent adult film lead. Her approach to the biz is refreshing: she’s in it for the sexual gratification and scorns peers who only do it for the money. She also a level-headed businesswoman who knows her worth on the market, takes pride in what she does and applies a Midwestern work ethic to her job.

Unfortunately, she is also prey to personal demons that haunt her despite her successes. Valentine’s willingness to bare her body (including some painful plastic surgery, which is shown in graphic detail) and her lifestyle often seems like a diversionary tactic to keep herself from looking inward. The obvious thing she is unsuccessfully trying to avoid is the fact the pain of her relationships with her father and her ex have made it well-nigh impossible for her to trust men.

Valentine veers between wanting intimacy and resenting that need, causing plenty of strain for her on-again, off-again relationship with fellow porn star Julian. Their rollercoaster relationship provides a narrative backbone for the film, its ups and downs illustrating both the desire for non-sexual love common to many porn stars and the human costs of a career in the adult entertainment industry.

The resulting documentary might cover familiar territory but The Girl Next Door remains compelling because the filmmakers have a good subject and know how to present her. Director Christine Fugate never puts a judgmental spin on Valentine, choosing instead to concentrate on how she reacts to the highs and lows of her career and allowing the audience to draw their own conclusions.

Fugate also looks for ways to present her subject as a normal person, an aim that works particularly well when Valentine visits her mother. Indeed, the film’s most touching moment comes when her mother has a heart to heart talk with her – not to complain about her lifestyle but to tell her that she wants Stacy to find a husband so she knows someone will love and care for her daughter when she is gone.

Needless to say, this isn’t a film for those in search of cheap thrills. The Girl Next Door offers plenty of casual nudity and discreet fly-on-the-wall footage of sex on porn sets but none of it is erotic (particularly a scene where Valentine honors a commitment by performing a scene after fake-smoke fog has made her ill). Instead, The Girl Next Door avoids both glamorization and demonization to put a human face on the business.