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USA 2002
Directed by
Miguel Arteta
93 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

The Good Girl

The Good Girl is a modest but wryly amusing black comedy about humdrum existences and what goes wrong when we valiantly but vainly try to break out of them.

Jennifer Aniston plays Justine Last, the good girl of the film’s title who works on the cosmetics counter of a budget price retail store, is married to a house painter Phil (John C. Reilly). She craves to escape her humdrum existence so when she notices an intense young co-worker named Holden (Jake Gyllenhall) who calls himself that because of his fascination with "The Catcher in the Rye", she is intrigued by him.  But he quickly falls in love with her, one thing leads to another and she finds that maybe boredom wasn’t so bad after all.

Writer Mike White who penned The School of Rock and who appears here as a Christian fundamentalist security guard has crafted a wickedly droll portrait of lives in a rut and is well served by the light touch of director Miguel Arteta (they previously collaborated on a film called Chuck & Buck which I have not seen). Switching between the primary locus the dire Retail Rodeo and her home where her husband spends every evening on the couch smoking marijuana with his friend, Bubba (Tim Blake Nelson) talking crap, the film is merciless in portraying the deadness of Justine’s life.  One can understand why she makes the mis-judgement of taking up with Holden by whom she is naively impressed.

Gyllenhall gets the slightly disturbed  puppy-dog dependency right and Aniston in her first attempt to break out of the rom-com stranglehold that she inherited from Friends is quite good in her role. Although she is a little too poised and attractive to convince from a realistic point of view, these qualities actually work quite well as a foil to the grotesques with which White and Arteta surround her and to facilitate her Teflon-like passage through some actually very dark events.  

Irony is not a quality that one sees much of in American film but The Good Girl quietly achieves a good measure of it whilst those with a love of gallows humour should find find it very enjoyable indeed.




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