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Published: 2005-04-29 - 21:53:00
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The Good Girl Review

By Joe Lozito

"Good" Grief

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Anyone who's lived and worked in the suburbs for any length of time will recognize the malaise that covers Miguel Arteta's "The Good Girl" like so much make-up at the "Retail Rodeo" cosmetics counter. The lead character in Mr. Arteta's dark, cynical and sadly funny film is played by Jennifer Aniston in a performance that at last proves that the "Friends" cast may have some potential on the big screen. After languishing in second-banana roles in such films as "Picture Perfect" and "Rock Star", Ms. Aniston here creates a fully realized character of surprising nuance and depth.

Though it's hard, at first, to forget that we're watching Jennifer Aniston, with her highlighted locks and perfect skin, the actress eventually disappears in the role, in a way that Halle Berry was never able to in "Monster's Ball", betrayed in that instance by her skimpy wardrobe. Here, Ms. Aniston's Justine Last walks as though there's a constant rainstorm over her head. Her arms stick motionless to her sides, her shoulders slouch and her clothes fall unlike the form-fitting ensembles we're used to seeing on Mrs. Brad Pitt. In a way, this is the dark underbelly of the character she played in the cult favorite "Office Space".

Director Arteta and writer Mike White are no strangers to dark comedy, having crafted 2000's stalker satire "Chuck & Buck". With "Good Girl" they play it a little closer to the vest, and it works wonderfully. With a few choice moments (the employee a little too free with the store PA system; the potheads on the couch discussing house paint that could render a building invisible), they effortlessly create an environment that is instantly recognizable and thoroughly real. This setting allows them to let their main character go through the emotional turmoil that stirs up her stagnant marriage to housepainter Phil (the always reliable John C. Reilly), while keeping the audience feeling Justine's despair as if she were a friend.

The turmoil in question mostly involves an escapist affair with disturbed youth Tom "Holden" Worther. As played by Jake Gyllenhaal, who is starting to corner the market on these roles, Holden (Tom is his "slave name") is a classic misunderstood boy. When he meets Justine, he feels as though someone finally "gets him" and he throws everything he is into the relationship. Though overly dramatic at times, the moments between these two never ceases to feel real. On the other side of the coin, the subtlest relationship in the film is that of Mr. Reilly and Ms. Aniston. I enjoyed that Mr. White did not make Phil a bumbling oaf that deserved to be cuckolded. When he finds out Justine is pregnant, he lets out a childlike "Woohoo!" like a kid on Christmas. Phil isn't a bad man, the way a husband would be portrayed in the Hollywood version of this story. He is just a simple man, who loves his wife and wants a family.

The film, in the end, is about escape. Justine describes her job at the Rodeo as a prison, her affair, though destructive in a way, is her means of escaping that jail cell. This decision has its pros and cons. People get hurt and, like life, everything has its consequences. Only occasionally, Mr. Arteta and Mr. White (who also plays a Bible-thumping security guard at the Retail Rodeo) take the easy way out. They cut some difficult scenes early when they should force the characters and audience to sit through them. Their deceptively happy ending allows for a few too many pieces to fall into place but at the same time raises some interesting questions about truth and perception. "The Good Girl", like its main character, is not without its flaws, but nobody's perfect.

What did you think?

Movie title The Good Girl
Release year 2002
MPAA Rating R
Our rating
Summary Jennifer Aniston takes her first real step out of the circle of 'Friends' with this star-turn as a bored retail employee who stirs up her stagnant marriage thanks to an affair with an emotionally disturbed boy (Jake Gyllanhaal).
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