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
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