Wednesday 21 October 2020

Movie Review: The Good Girl (2002)

A drama with dry humour, The Good Girl is a small but astute story of a working class woman trying to break out of a rut.

In a small Texas town, Justine (Jennifer Aniston) is 30 years old and stuck in an emotionless marriage to perpetually stoned house painter Phil (John C. Reilly). She also hates her sales job at the non-descript big-box Retail Rodeo store. But her passions are aroused by new employee Holden (Jake Gyllenhaal), a moody 22 year old modeling himself on Holden Caulfield of J.D. Salinger's The Catcher In The Rye.

Justine and Holden start an affair, but as her guilt grows, so does his need for control. Meanwhile Phil is undergoing fertility tests, and Justine's co-worker Gwen (Deborah Rush) suffers a medical mishap. As gossip about Justine's infidelity spreads, the opportunities to change her life start to narrow.

A tidy story with an idiosyncratic attitude, The Good Girl takes itself seriously enough but still finds time for jabs of humour at life's ridiculous twists. Director Miguel Arteta and writer Mike White create the blandest of tableaus for Justine to sink deeper into her depression, this grey corner of Texas notable for exactly nothing. The community revolves around the neon drenched Retail Rodeo sitting in the middle of an enormous parking lot, and Justine's cramped house offers no refuge: Phil and his work colleague Bubba (Tim Blake Nelson) are the immovable joint-smoking occupants of her living room sofa, and the bedroom television set does not work.

That Justine goes looking for a bolt of excitement is no surprise, but her fling with the troubled Holden turns into a field of misadventure. She tries a dead-end turn towards religion, but frantic lies emerge as a better alternative to salvage some semblance of stability. Ironically, while an infatuation-fueled Holden evolves into a potential nightmare, it only takes small nudges to make some progress with husband Phil (the television gets repaired).

Despite a worrisome mortality rate among Retail Rodeo employees, Arteta still finds chuckles through an animated set of supporting characters hatched by their environment. These include store manager Jack (a perfectly even-tempered John Carroll Lynch), the surreptitiously incendiary sales associate Cheryl (Zooey Deschanel), the God-loving beady-eyed security guard Corny (Mike White), and the observant but emotionally dependent Bubba.

In an early role Jake Gyllenhaal mixes equal parts brooding charisma and lurking danger. But Jennifer Aniston shines brightest as the morose Justine, shuffling rather than walking towards outcomes she despises but cannot avoid, increasingly befuddled as her every action somehow makes things worse. As she discovers the pitfalls of boldly striving for better, The Good Girl does well.

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