The Good Girl

The Good Girl


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

There is an abyss called married life and Justine (Jennifer Aniston) disappeared into it seven years ago. Her husband, Phil (John C Reilly), is a house painter, who smokes too much dope and never fixes the TV. They don't have kids; she doesn't even know whether she wants any. She works at Retail Rodeo, the largest store in town. This is Texas, not the big hat country-singin' lone star state, but the outer edge of the civilised world, where bible nights and packaged meals are all there is.

She's an ordinary girl, who knows that advancement from the check-out to the cosmetic counter isn't going to change the way the world turns. Looking at her, you see youth faded so far it leaves no stain of colour in her cheeks. "He's a pig," she says of Phil. "He talks, but he doesn't think." She is trapped forever, like a lizard in a box. She carries sadness without remembering how freedom feels. She's 30-years-old. Time has drained her dreams, leaving a scum of tears.

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"I saw in your eyes how you hate the world," Holden (Jake Gyllenhaal) says one day. "I hate it, too." He works at the check-out and is always reading. His real name is Tom. He calls himself Holden because of Catcher In The Rye. He's a writer, he says. He's 22. They become friends, if eating lunch at the back of the store is what friends do. She says, "Your lips are real pouty, like a woman." He tells her about wanting to leave some kind of legacy and how he doesn't feel part of the world. He tries to kiss her in the car. At first, she is afraid. She asks herself later, driving home, "Is this your last best chance? Or are you going to your grave with unlived lives in your veins?"

Superficially, this is known territory. There are going to be characters here, backwoods loonies and dried up businessmen and flirty teenagers who saw The Last Picture Show on video and want to blow the place to hell. Small town Texas, where infidelity is a virus, has become the dark side of Frank Capra's vision. They don't bake apple pies anymore. They buy them frozen, go out on dates to The Chunky Cheese, or sneak off to the motel and think no-one will find out.

The Good Girl is ironic. It's nothing like the stereotype - that was Sweet Home Alabama. Every time a cliché rears its weathered head, director Miguel Arteta lops it off with a sharp knife. The photography has been doctored to give a grainy, home movie look, adding to the atmosphere of sleek-free alienation. Mike White, who wrote the script and played one of the leads in the painfully direct Chuck & Buck a couple of years ago, is responsible for the screenplay, which has a similar unexpurgated honesty.

Above all, this is an actor's movie. The performances are terrific. Aniston has transformed from her comic persona in Friends into a strong woman with an empty future. Even her body language has a provincial accent. Gyllenhaal, last seen as Donnie Darko, captures the yearnings of a middle-class kid, living at home with dull parents, writing autobiographical stories about emotional pain; his intensity is electric. By contrast, Reilly is wonderfully lazy and Tim Blake Nelson, as Phil's partner in the painting business, supremely odd.

Comedy this dark is a rarity. It deserves to be cherished.

Reviewed on: 08 Jan 2003
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Check-out girl falls for stock room boy in tale of love and larceny.
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Read more The Good Girl reviews:

Jennie Kermode ****

Director: Miguel Arteta

Writer: Mike White

Starring: Jennifer Aniston, Jake Gyllenhaal, John C. Reilly, Zooey Deschanel, Tim Blake Nelson, Deborah Rush, John Carroll Lynch, Mike White

Year: 2002

Runtime: 93 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US/Germany/Netherlands


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