The Good Girl (2002)

25 Mar

425.goodgirl.lc.020711

Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“The Good Girl” is a story about a woman in crisis—stuck doing the same routine with nothing new in her life. She works at the local discount store in her hometown—as you’d expect, she hates her job. Her husband is a loser—a slacker who would rather sit on the couch and watch TV with his best buddy than be with his wife. Nothing is as it should be, and she goes about her day in a constant state of quiet and imprisonment.

The woman’s name is Justine and she’s played by Jennifer Aniston, an actress you wouldn’t expect to play the part, given her mostly-TV-based career, but proves herself to be more than capable. Aniston is nearly unrecognizable as Justine—you never see her as Rachel from “Friends”; you see her as Justine.

Justine’s working-class lifestyle is, as she puts it, like being in prison on death row. Her job as a retail clerk at a Wal-Mart knockoff, called “Retail Rodeo,” doesn’t mean anything to her and she feels crippled by it. Then there’s her husband Phil (John C. Reilly), who’s not a bad person, but a lazy, pot-smoking slacker who spends most of his time watching TV with his friend Bubba (Tim Blake Nelson). He’s not abusive and does care for Justine, but he just doesn’t seem like the man Justine married years ago.

Then, Justine meets Holden (Jake Gyllenhaal), a 22-year-old loner-poet who joins Retail Rodeo and keeps to himself, reading “Catcher in the Rye” (he says he’s named after the protagonist, but he really named himself after him). Justine sees that Holden is having the same problem as herself—feeling suffocated by routine. She draws herself to him, and they spend a lot of time together. This leads to an affair that these two felt desperate to have. But the more time they spend together, the further Justine notices that maybe Holden isn’t too well—he has an unstable mentality and impulsively says things like, “I want to knock your head open and see what’s inside” (which he thinks is a romantic come-on).

The screenplay for “The Good Girl” was written by Mike White (who also co-stars as a religious security guard); he creates a grim (though realistic) outlook on life, credible main characters, and quirky side characters that seem like people you would see working at a retail store. That particular third element includes a supporting character that steals the show—a profanity-spewing, deadpan-sarcastic co-worker played by Zooey Deschanel. Her spin on the “attention shoppers” announcements is hilarious. Moments like those inside the retail store make for effective satire.

Those expecting a lighthearted comedy starring Jennifer Aniston in her typecast-“Rachel” phase should just keep looking (or go rent “Picture Perfect”). “The Good Girl” displays Jennifer Aniston’s true acting talent—credible, dynamic, and effective. Those three adjectives describe the whole movie in general.

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