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the Good Girl

Fox // R // August 20, 2002
List Price: Unknown

Review by Aaron Beierle | posted September 2, 2002 | E-mail the Author
The Movie:

In "The Good Girl", we're supposed to feel sympathetic for small town clerk Justine (Jennifer Aniston). Unfortunately, I felt worse for the actress than the character. Justine lives in a nowhere town in the middle of Texas, is passing 30 and finding herself increasingly bored in her marriage to Phil (John C. Reilly), a pot-smoking painter who doesn't do much aside from watch a broken TV and get high.

One day, she takes a liking to the new clerk in the store, Holden (Jake Gyllenhaal), who's obsessed with "Catcher In the Rye". To offer an example of the movie's humor, he tells her he's named after "Catcher In the Rye", to which she responds, "so what's your name...Catcher?" Still, the two find a similar dislike for their place in the world in each other and start to form a friendship that gradually slides into an affair.

If things weren't bad enough for Justine, when she becomes unsure of whether she wants to persue the relationship with Holden, he becomes obsessive and almost child-ish, going to increasingly desperate lengths to keep her in his life. While it would have been fine to have the Holden character feel that their releationship would work, it was really unnecessary to make the character as creepy as Gyllenhaal plays him. Justine seems even less bright for taking forever to realize that the kid's completely, over-the-top nuts. To top it off, eventually someone close to her becomes aware that she's carrying on an affair.

Again, I like Jennifer Aniston. I think that when she dials down the sort of up-tempo comedic personality she displays on friends, she can play a down-to-earth character with charm and warmth. However, this is simply not an interesting character. We're told little about her past, how she ended up here and really, while we're told to feel sorry for her in the opening, I wasn't quite sure how to feel when the film was done as the film threw her into the middle of terrible situations and multiple lies.

Aniston's Justine is about the only fully realized character. John C. Reilly, brilliant in "Magnolia" and very good in "Perfect Storm", is essentially wasted - while he has a few moments to shine, he's asked to do little besides sit on the couch. Tim Blake Nelson, so funny in "Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?" brings a stranger and dimmer version of that character here. Zooey Deschanel ("Big Trouble") gets some well-placed laughs as Justine's co-worker who can't help but throw a little mean-spirited humor the customer's way. Even writer Mike White shows up as a religious security guard. Once the film ends though, we know little more about these characters than when the film opened. Furthermore, I couldn't help but feel as if writer White and director Miguel Arteta don't care about or respect any of these characters, making an already drab, depressing film even duller and more uninvolving.

Still, more problems: the film is almost entirely predictable. Within a matter of about 15 minutes, I saw where "Good Girl" was going and checked off the points as it slowly, aimlessly managed to pass them. Given that the film really only has one fully-realized - although not entirely involving, as written - character that it half-heartedly attempts to focus on, there's little to pull along the interest. The Coens or Alexander Payne could probably have handled these characters in a more interesting way and given some badly needed energy to this film.

There's one point towards the end where Justine is sitting in her car and must make a choice to turn one way and send her life in one direction or the other. While it's one of the few nice moments in the film, a better choice would have been the one not offered by the filmmakers - a U-turn to head the other way out of town, away from both Holden and her husband.

"The Good Girl" proves what most already knew - that Jennifer Aniston can be a very strong actress. Hopefully, she'll also prove in the future that she's capable of picking better roles in much better films than this one.



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