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The Good Girl
Directed by: Miguel Arteta
Written by: Mike White
Starring: Jennifer Aniston, Jake Gyllenhaal, John C. Reilly, Tim Blake Nelson
Language: English
Look for it at the video store under: drama
Watch it when you’re in the mood for something: darkly comic
The critic says: ½/ 5 the rating system explained
Fun factor: /5

Plot synopsis Day after day, Justine plods through her dreary job as the cosmetics girl at the Retail Rodeo, a dismal discount department store of the Walmart/Kmart variety. Each evening, she returns home to find her husband Phil and his buddy Bubba stoned on her couch, laughing about inanities. She walks around work in a half-sleep stupor to try and forget about how much she hates everyone and everything around her; in bed at night, with her oblivious husband sleeping soundly beside her, she lies with her back towards him, eyes wide open and mind reeling with the immensity of how much she loathes her dull, meaningless life. Escape seems so far a stretch from reality that she’s not even sure what to fantasize about anymore … until one day, she notices the new boy working the cash register at the Retail Rodeo. He’s lost in a tattered old paperback – The Catcher in the Rye – and there’s something about the way he keeps to himself, puts up a defensive keep-away kind of posture, that intrigues Justine. His nametag, naturally, reads Holden (it’s a name he adopted for himself), and when Holden explains to Justine that his favorite book is about a kid who’s pissed off at the hypocrisy of the world around him, an instant connection is forged. The two begin sharing lunch breaks, as well as rides home from work (Holden has no car: Justine has to drop him off at home, where he lives with his parents), Soon, the friendship becomes a full-fledged affair, despite the fact that he’s an alcoholic college drop-out that’s barely out of his teens, and she’s a tired thirty-year-old who’s been a “good girl” all her life. 

Review Jennifer Aniston isn’t Rachel. Maybe this seems like a surprise, given the fact that she’s acted like her famous Friends character in just about every movie that she’s ever appeared in – pretty, stylish, a little self-involved perhaps, but ultimately, a nice girl. So it’s understandable if the sight of Aniston’s picture-perfect face gracing the cover of The Good Girl is enough to make you think that this is exactly the kind of fluffy romantic comedy that you make an active effort to avoid. But trust me, you’d be wrong. See, The Good Girl is brought to you by Miguel Arteta and Mike White, the same team that created the very idiosyncratic, highly discomfiting, deeply dark comedy Chuck and Buck. And if that’s not enough indie cool cred for you, there’s the presence of the always-wonderful John C. Reilly, as Justine’s husband Phil, and scruffy-faced, soulful-eyed, geek-chic hipster du jour, Jake Gyllenhaal, doing a creepier version of what’s essentially the same role that he played so well in Donnie Darko, and again in Lovely and Amazing. The big surprise, though, is that Aniston is completely believable as a lonely small-town Texas wife, barely hiding her frustrations behind a stiff walk, tight-lipped semi-smile and weary eyes. It’s a quiet, spare, and wonderfully internalized performance, and it’s a big credit to Aniston that she never resorts to her usual brand of ditzy charm to make us love Justine. It’s not that Justine’s unsympathetic – anyone who’s ever felt deeply stuck in a rut will feel some level connection to Justine’s plight – but she’s certainly not generous, or lovely, or bright, or kind, or any of the other qualities one normally associates with goodness. Instead she’s just an ordinary girl, making some questionable moral decisions in the course of trying to do something extraordinary with her life. In the end, it’s next-to-impossible to apply a label as simple as “good” or “bad” to any of the characters in the movie. Deftly treading the line between comedy and drama, pathos and parody, The Good Girl shows that what makes the world interesting is that it isn’t defined by boring black and white extremes, but that great murky gray area in between.
—reviewed by Yee-Fan Sun

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