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The Good Girl

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: The Good Girl

Starring: Jennifer Aniston, Jake Gyllenhaal
Director: Miguel Arteta
Rated: R
RunTime: 94 Minutes
Release Date: August 2002
Genres: Comedy, Romance

*Also starring: John C. Reilly, Tim Blake Nelson

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Review by Harvey Karten
3 stars out of 4

We hear stories all the time about young people who are depressed, who try suicide, whose raging hormones give them no peace and who can't wait to grow up more and become normal. My own experience with men and women in the classroom and out on the ball field is that most are regular guys, fairly rational, and are eager to plan their futures like anyone ten years older. Nonetheless there are some who are taken by J.D. Salinger's classic "The Catcher in the Rye," about this Holden Caulfield preppie who has contempt for the world, who is excessively judgmental, who doesn't fit in and winds up institutionalized. This is not the kind of person you want to emulate and you may not think much of the author's own life style, but then happy, adjusted people don't usually make for deep domestic drama while the characters in "The Good Girl" do. And Mike White, who is quite talented as both a writer and actor (his offbeat gem "Chuck and Buck," made for just a half a mil two years back, was directed by the same fellow who helmed "The Good Girl"), provides witty, sincere, believable dialogue for his small-town Texas characters this time around as well.

"The Good Girl" is about the fatal attraction that Tom "Holden" Worther (Jake Gyllenhaal) has for a co-worker, Justine Last (Jennifer Aniston) who rides the cash register a few meters away from his own in The Retail Rodeo a clone of Woolworth's that dominates the generic mall of the town. Worther is the essential hero of Salinger's novel, which he reads and re-reads when the cash registers are not singing. He insists on being called Holden and has an I.D. tag to establish his truer self. At just the right moment that both he and Justine realize that they are leading lives of quiet desperation and itch to get out of their rut, they take their lunchtime talks up a few notches to the local motel. Trouble is that is married for the last seven years to a pothead house painter, Phil (John C. Reilly) and has to put up each night with her man's vapid conversations with his best friend, Bubba (Tim Blake Nelson). As the conflicted prepares to bolt her life with a guy eight years her junior a young man who is no Tadpole but rather a drunk, a college dropout, a loser the coils of a Greek-style tragedy tighten.

But unlike Greek tragedy, "The Good Girl" is down-to-earth, with Miguel Arteta coaching comic vignettes from his mostly sympathetic characters. Mike White's dialogue is spot on for side characters like Cheryl (Zooey Deschanel), the heavily made-up but sardonic and creative announcer of sales at the Rodeo's microphone; like Corny (Mike White), a security guard who tries to persuade Justine to join his weekly Bible study group; like Tim Blake Nelson as Phil's best friend with more than platonic interest in Justine; and John C. Reilly, a house painter who looks content smoking pot but gives away his real feelings when during a heavy rainstorm he states that he wishes for a deluge so that he would never have to paint again.

Jennifer Aniston is best of all in a role playing more or less against character. Not here do we find her in the superficially amusing roles that he inhabited in Edward Burns's "She's the One" and in Mike Judge's hilarious 1999 movie "Office Space." With her hair in a bun that proclaims her girl-next-door good looks and her eyes gazing into yet another daydream of an escape from the banality of small-town life, she holds up as a woman who could be the object of any sensitive guy's affection; a good girl whose lust combines with her disaffection to cause serious trouble in her marriage and in the lives of no small number of people in the neighborhood.

Copyright 2002 Harvey Karten

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