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The Good Girl

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: The Good Girl

Starring: Jennifer Aniston, Jake Gyllenhaal
Director: Miguel Arteta
Rated: R
RunTime: 94 Minutes
Release Date: August 2002
Genres: Comedy, Romance

*Also starring: John C. Reilly, Tim Blake Nelson

Review by Steve Rhodes
3½ stars out of 4

In Miguel Arteta's THE GOOD GIRL, Jennifer Aniston delivers an incredible, amazing performance against type, as a severely depressed woman stuck in an unhappy marriage. Her bitterly sad character really got to me, so much so that I'd love to see Aniston receive an Oscar nomination for her performance.

The movie opens in a Texas discount store -- the picture was actually filmed in Southern California -- called the "Retail Rodeo." A plastic palace, it features cheery announcers who are bored out of their wits as they list the specials of the day. In voice-over, Justine Last (Aniston) explains to us that, to a girl, the world is a candy store, but, to a woman, it's a prison.

Corny (Mike White), the store's goofy security guard, invites Justine to come to the weekly Bible study at his church, The First Church of the Nazarene. "I like to keep my nights to myself," she explains to him, as a polite way to decline his offer. "Well, maybe you'll have eternal hellfire to yourself," he quickly responds and then, after pausing, adds, "Just kidding you." The irony is that her life feels like eternal hellfire to her. Her fellow employee, Cheryl (Zooey Deschanel), copes with the monotony of her job by getting away with outrageous behavior in the store, which gets her ignored rather than fired, which is undoubtedly what she'd prefer.

Justine's clueless husband, Phil (John C. Reilly), makes a meager living painting houses with his lifelong buddy, Bubba (Tim Blake Nelson). The two guys spend their evenings in male bonding rituals on Phil's sofa, as they get stoned. Although Phil loves Justine, he pretty much ignores her.

One day, Justine hits it off with a new employee at work, an angst-filled young man who calls himself Holden (Jake Gyllenhaal) after Holden Caufield in "The Catcher in the Rye." Holden's "slave name" is Tom, which Justine learns when his mother calls him that. Justine and Holden find that they share something important -- they both hate life. Although he's just twenty-two and she's an old, married woman of thirty, they are soon having nightly trysts at a local motel.

Justine, however, is no Mrs. Robinson. She is severely conflicted by her own actions and wants to quit but can't. Although she complains that her husband is a pig, she feels that infidelity is just plain wrong. Since Corny claims that "the couple that prays together, stays together," Justine demands that Phil lay off the dope for one night a week and come to Bible study with her.

Although the tragedy has several moments of sharply written black comedy, the story is a serious drama. As we move to its conclusion, it is clear that something bad will likely happen, but what and to whom isn't so obvious. In fact, it looks like Mike White's script has painted itself into a corner in which a fake, Hollywood ending is the only possibility. Luckily for the audience, the movie stays true to its principles from start to finish. It's a sometimes devastating movie and always an engaging one.

THE GOOD GIRL runs 1:33. It is rated R for "sexuality, some language and drug content" and would be acceptable for teenagers.

Copyright 2002 Steve Rhodes

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