2002 film starring Jennifer Aniston
, John C. Reilly
, Jake Gyllenhaal
and Tim Blake Nelson
Written by: Mike White
Directed by: Miguel Arteta
Running Length: One hour and 33 minutes
Rating: R for language and sexuality
Though the film “The Good Girl” is short a few doses of Zoloft, director Miguel Arteta (who also directed "Chuck and Buck") does a modest job offering the story of a no-where-headed “Retail Rodeo” clerk named Justine, a woman who proves an intense failure at making any good decisions when it comes to “planning her escape” from a life of boredom.
Justine (Aniston) is married to Phil (played by Reilly, also good in “Boogie Nights”), an easygoing painter who spends most evenings getting stoned on his couch next to his buddy Bubba (Nelson of “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”). Amidst the myriad days working at a Texas retail store selling makeup and liquid drain killer, then coming home to a perpetually stoned husband, Justine decides to hunt for some excitement. She finds something new and different in the store’s new clerk, Holden (Gyllenhaal, also in “Donnie Darko”). Holden, a moody 22-year-old who has modeled himself after the same-named character from “The Catcher in the Rye,” feels nobody understands him. But his feelings suddenly change once he meets Justine. So one day Holden asks Justine to meet him in front of Chuck E. Cheese's (let the romance begin), and the two begin an awkward affair.
Obviously Justine has discovered a poor route for excitement, but as time goes on and the affair becomes more problematic, the choices she makes grow worse on every turn. Her life becomes more like an episode of “General Hospital” as it travels further off the tracks of sanity, and the lengths she goes to hide the terrible tryst demonstrate that Justine is pretty far from being a "good" girl.
Aniston does a great job shedding her hard-to-peel Rachel skin for this film. Hair thrown back in a ponytail, with a tired face and wearing non-discript apparel, she walks like she’s lost a reason to walk anywhere. Her sullen stares and dour voice reflect how dowdy she is on the inside, not just on the outside. Gyllenhaal does not fail in portraying your typical Holden-like youngster, though considering most of his roles so far in films have not strayed far from this character, he will have to venture out of the stereotype before we will truly know his range. Nelson nails the part of a redneck pothead buddy, and Reilly’s portrayal of a simple-minded but kind-hearted hubby is right on— viewers can easily empathize with him more than with Justine. Also offering up some dandy dead-pan comedy is Justine's co-clerk Cheryl, played by Zooey Deschanel, who can't help but make subliminal jibes at customers (just to add a little spice to the typical Retail Rodeo day).
Having said this, the movie still lacked a flair it needed to place it above its simple humdrum exhibit of pasty-faced characters making bad decisions. The end leaves a viewer expecting a little more. The fine acting and occasional moments of excellent dark humor make it worth a watch, but "The Good Girl" is not really memorable enough to be considered among the best of independent films.