The Good Girl

2002, Movie, R, 93 mins

Review

GOOD GIRL, THE
starstarstarstar
Jennifer Aniston brings her trademark sparkle to this unusual drama from screenwriter Mike White and director Miguel Arteta, and that's something of a problem. White and Arteta's follow-up to their excellent digital feature CHUCK & BUCK is a carefully measured mixture of bone-dry comedy and genuine pathos that struggles to maintain its balance against the weight of Aniston's firmly established Friends persona. Justine Last (Aniston), a 30-year-old small-town Texas woman, has come to the sad realization that her life isn't at all the candy store she once hoped it would be. Instead, it's a prison. Her cell is the makeup counter at the Retail Rodeo where she works; her ball and chain is her genial but chronically stoned husband, Phil (John C. Reilly), a housepainter whose ambitions include having a child but otherwise extend no farther than grabbing the television remote and sharing a joint with his best friend, Bubba (Tim Blake Nelson). While Phil snores away beside her, Justine lies awake at night dreaming of what might have been, and foolishly thinks she's found a way out when 22-year-old Holden (Jake Gyllenhaal) comes to work at the Rodeo. Holden, an aspiring writer who renamed himself in honor of J.D. Salinger's moody hero, is convinced that no one, especially not his parents, "gets" him. Justine looks into Holden's eyes and knows he hates the world around him just much as she does; soon the two are having sex in the storeroom and slipping off to the local motel. Justine only wants to be a good girl, but her reckless search for happiness has terrible consequences for everyone around her. The casting of Aniston is a coup that may draw audiences to this admirably risky, heartfelt film, but her presence can't help but diminish its seriousness. She does capture Justine's loneliness, and her natural charisma keeps you from judging Justine's many mistakes too harshly, but for the past nine years Aniston's acting style has been honed by sit com entanglements and the occasional romantic comedy. Her strength as an actress is a comedic airiness that doesn't quite match this film's grim desperation. Even during the most intense moments, it's hard to shake the impression that the conspicuously buff-and-polished Justine is only visiting this drab world, her miserable life an interesting career move. The total naturalism of the heavy hitting supporting cast — each of whom reveals something very sad about their characters along the way — only makes for an even less comfortable fit. leave a comment --Ken Fox

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