The Good Girl
2002, R, 94 min. Directed by Miguel Arteta. Starring Jennifer Aniston, John C. Reilly, Jake Gyllenhaal, Zooey Deschanel, Tim Blake Nelson, Mike White, John Carroll Lynch, Deborah Rush.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Thu., Aug. 22, 2002
At first the flat vowels and empty yearning of the voiceover sound something like that of Linda Manz, the kid-sister narrator of Terrence Malick's Days of Heaven. But it's not; it comes from Jennifer Aniston, who stars as this movie's titular good girl Justine, a depressed 30-year-old who exists in a universe miles apart from Aniston's more Friendly, well-known, and "with it" character Rachel, whose sitcom is beamed weekly into our living rooms. Justine has become frustrated and lonely in her marriage to the man of her youthful dreams (Reilly), who has turned out to be an amiable but aimless house painter who spends more time on the couch smoking pot with his best buddy Bubba (Nelson) than he does on scaffolds painting house siding. Her job at the local Retail Rodeo in Nowheresville, Texas, is also unsatisfying, an endless string of blank, boring days in this local mecca of commerce. Early on, as she relates in the voiceover, she viewed life's offerings with the wide-open eyes of a kid in a candy store. Now she sees little but prison bars in the same surroundings. She's already primed for a real shake-up (unlike those cosmetic makeovers she pointlessly provides at the store) when she notices the new cashier, an aloof kid named Holden (Gyllenhaal) who has his nose buried in The Catcher in the Rye. It's a book Justine has never heard of, thus she receives no instant warning sign that Holden, eight years her junior, might still be suffering a prolonged adolescence. (Interestingly, Gyllenhaal's puppy-dog looks and ability to capture the narcissism of youth have been put to good use recently as he's played the object of older women's affections in pictures such as Lovely & Amazing and this fall's The Moonlight Mile.) The Good Girl is an affecting study of depression and loneliness in small-town America, helped along by wonderful lead performances by Aniston, Reilly, Nelson, and Gyllenhaal, and memorably great supporting turns by Deschanel, Lynch, White, and Rush. In addition to his supporting role, Mike White also authored the screenplay and re-teamed with his Chuck & Buck director, Miguel Arteta. The world of The Good Girl is not as desperately clingy and unbalanced as that of Chuck & Buck, although it does walk a similar tightrope poised precariously over the gulf between comedy and tragedy. Still, no matter how real these characters and their predicaments seem, there is no getting past some of the script's more overwritten elements that just seem too polished for these raw locals. More of a problem is the film's Texas-specific setting: The scenery and backgrounds holler "inauthenticity" (which, understandably, may be more of a distraction for Texas viewers than for others, although that does not diminish the film's little deceptions). Since this is clearly Justine's story, the filmmakers can be pardoned for their sometimes cursory view of Holden and his crisis. His parents (played by Joe Doe and Roxanne Hart) are portrayed as catatonic couch potatoes, even though the plot dynamics hinge on actions they have taken, presumably, offscreen. Nevertheless, The Good Girl succeeds as a moody, evocative, and pleasing film, one that underscores its indie roots in sentiment as well as style