The Good Girl Review

Aug 06, 2002 | 8:56am EDT

Justine Last (Jennifer Aniston) lives the kind of life that rarely makes the big screen. She spends her days giving makeovers at the Retail Rodeo and her nights watching her house painter husband of seven years Phil (John C. Reilly) and his best friend Bubba (Tim Blake Nelson) sit on her couch and get high. All of that changes though when she meets Holden (Jake Gyllenhaal) the new cashier. The eager yet troubled young poet/screenwriter/novelist-to-be captures her imagination and eventually becomes her lover. In classic moments of small-Southern-town trysting he takes her to his room in his parents' house and arranges meetings outside the Chuck E. Cheese's. They shack up in a motel at the edge of town; they rendezvous at a lake in the country. Throughout the affair though Justine is torn and guilty wanting to be a "good girl " but finding herself a hateful woman--a self-proclaimed adulteress and a liar. This is no whitewashed fantasy of a romantic affair between an older woman and a younger man. This affair is your sister's your brother's your husband's your wife's. It's real it's gritty and it's painful. Ultimately Holden's love for Justine becomes morbid and obsessive causing her to realize that the man she thought would change her life was in fact "at best a child and at worst--a demon." Justine is then forced to choose: this obsessive love and the excitement it brings or a stable--if boring--life with her husband.

Aniston proves her mettle at last in a role that finally allows her to do so; no one who sees this film will ever again accidentally call her "Rachel" (her character on the ubiquitous sitcom Friends). Her performance perfectly captures the tension of wanting to be a "good girl" yet secretly yearning to be selfish. You know she's dueling with herself as she makes decision after decision that leads inexorably to the film's tragic ending and you feel her pain. Justine is flawed like all the rest of us and Aniston brings this humanity to the forefront creating one of the most realistic heroines in recent history. Gyllenhaal too is perfectly cast as the brooding intense Holden. He captures the duality screenwriter Mike White writes into nearly all the characters in this movie: You want to snuggle Holden one minute; the next you wish he'd just go away. Reilly and Nelson also demonstrate a not inconsiderable subtlety in roles that could easily have become caricatures; instead the tension between what these guys wanted from life and what they ultimately ended up with accentuates Justine's turmoil and deepens the film's theme. On the film's lighter side White puts in a hilariously dark turn as Corny the Bible-thumping security guard at Retail Rodeo and Zooey Deschanel is excellent as the classic employee with an attitude hurling insults at Retail Rodeo customers over the loudspeaker as she announces the latest bargain on aisle eight. The Good Girl doesn't look like much. Darkness and shadows invade every corner of the screen at one point or another the sets are fairly commonplace and the costumes are simple: Lee jeans smocks plaid shirts and painter's pants. Even Aniston's pink bathrobe is dull and washed out. The Good Girl is a smart delicately ironic and insightful partnership between a brilliant screenwriter (White) and a director (Miguel Arteta) who know exactly how to bring words to life on the screen. And The Good Girl does come to life in a well-paced funny quirky package that leaves you thinking that above all what you have seen is a slice of truth in a mixed-up crazy world.

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