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"A very interesting character study for Jennifer Aniston."
"Fails to make any sense out of Justine's ambition."
"Leaves me craving for the entree."
The Good Girl  

Cast

Justine: Jennifer Aniston
Holden: Jake Gyllenhaal
Phil: John C. Reilly
Bubba: Tim Blake Nelson
Cheryl: Zooey Deschanel
Corny: Mike White
Review July 2002

"As a girl, you see the world like a giant candy store, filled with sweet candy and such" says Justine, but as an adult, the selection gets smaller and the choices redundant.

When I first saw the trailer to this film, I was instantly reminded of a Shawn Colvin song about a woman who works at a small town gas station and ponders what life would be like outside of town. The song is "Someday" and Jennifer Aniston stars in this version about a small town girl who grows up only to find that she is trapped in a life of routine and boredom. Sings Colvin, someday, she hopes to get outta this place.

Justine is a blue collar worker who finds herself in a rut. She works a dead end job at the check out counter at Retail Rodeo, a small town five and dime store in the middle of nowhereville. In addition, she is married to a house painter named Phil, who seems inanimate and would rather spend his free time smoking pot and glazing over television in the afternoons with his associate, Bubba. To make matters worse for Justine, the couple is trying to conceive a child and she feels that his pot smoking is preventing her from becoming pregnant.

One day, she is given the opportunity to escape from her boring life. She is introduced to a strange new employee named Holden, who is filled with creativity and a desire to leave the drudgery of his "slave" life. These are qualities that she can associate with and feels are missing from her life. In his spare time, Holden writes short stories and ironically, reads "The Catcher in the Rye" for whom he was named after. The two connect instantaneously both on a mental and physical level. Their passion is explosive and leads to other rebellious things such as theft, blackmail, and adultery.

It's only after exploring her new and adventurous side that Justine eventually must choose between leaving town with Holden or remaining with her faithful husband. Each has its own set of consequences.

All in all, this is a very interesting character study and Jennifer Aniston is convincing as Justine, a woman going through a mid-life crisis and the pains of conception. At no point in time during the film was I reminded of the air-headed, schmaltzy Rachel whom she portrays in the ever-popular "Friends." In fact, this is a landmark film for Aniston, who successfully sheds her stereotyped persona of sitcom to earn big screen kudos. Out of all the films the "Friends" cast has made, this is certainly one of the best.

Written by Mike White, who also portrays Corny, the security guard, "The Good Girl" is about finding your inner self and being comfortable with who you are and the choices you've made along the way. It is witty and clever without going overboard. And like White's critically acclaimed film "Chuck and Buck," it is a depiction of someone whose life remains kosher until a strange event occurs and changes their behavior completely. Buck becomes a stalker and Justine nearly becomes a felon.

White and director, Miguel Arteta, do a wonderful job at capturing the quirkiness of small town life and small town idiosyncrasies. The side characters are fun to watch, particularly at the retail outlet. They are outlandish, such as a down to earth beautician, a rebellious and insulting P.A. announcer, a bible thumping security guard, and a stern yet bumbling store manager.

Having grown up in a small town myself, I can definitely associate with those who wish to escape. Oftentimes, you go to school, graduate, get a job, get married, and find yourself wondering what's happened to your life and your dreams. It's a real downer to be stuck at Retail Rodeo working as a check out clerk, always wondering what could have been and what it would be like to just pack your things and leave all your troubles behind. To be presented with an opportunity for escape makes for a compelling drama.

But the single problem I had with the picture is that it fails to make any sense out of Justine's ambition. Rather than rekindle her creativity, she remains wishy washy. And her indecisiveness leads to our frustration. We are presented with a woman who is bored with her life and ready for a change. We see her in desperate straights, ready to quit Retail Rodeo and leave her husband to explore the unknown. In fact, she's so willing that she throws herself at other men. Yet, after all the troubles she goes through to break out of her rut and the humiliation she endures along the way, she chooses to pretend like none of it ever happened. She chooses to remain "The Good Girl." While her gullible husband is willing to go along with the deceitful charade, I'm less inclined. I would have preferred that the whole thing was a dream instead of a glossy web of lies.

Nevertheless, "The Good Girl" remains a delicious appetizer from the duo of Mike White and Miguel Arteta. It is amusing and sagacious, but leaves me craving for the entree.



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