The Good Girl (2002) / Comedy-Drama
MPAA Rated: R for sexuality, some language and drug content
Running Time: 93 min.
Cast: Jennifer Aniston, John C. Reilly, Jake Gyllenhaal, Tim Blake Nelson
Director: Miguel Arteta
Screenplay: Mike White
Review published August 14, 2002
Considering screenwriter Mike White had films like Campus Man and Orange County on his resume, I was a little hesitant about whether or not The Good Girl might actually be worth watching. However, he did collaborate with the same director (Arteta, Youth in Revolt) for the film Chuck & Buck, mostly to good reviews, so I held on to a glimmer of hope for a surprise, and wasn't too disappointed.
Jennifer Aniston (Rock Star, The Iron Giant) stars as Justine, a woman whose life seems the pits, holding a dead end job for as long as she can remember in a discount store in a small Texas town. Phil (Reilly, The Anniversary Party) is her husband of seven years, who spends most of his free time sitting with his friend Bubba (Nelson, O Brother Where Art Thou) getting stoned and watching television, and if there are words that pass between Phil and Justine, it's usually in relation to the television reception being bad. Justine hates everyone and everything, and she one day forms a bond with a new fellow employee who calls himself Holden (Gyllenhaal, Donnie Darko), who feels the same way. They become friends and Justine's boredom at home and work causes her to have an affair with the younger man, but Holden has maturity issues and Justine has doubts. When her indiscretions are suspected by others, keeping the secret proves detrimental to her sanity, and potentially her marriage.
The Good Girl has its share of good moments, some comedic, some sad, some tragic, but always interesting. The characters are likeable, and played well by the actors, with Aniston in particular showcasing that she can handle dramatic scenes well, and shouldn't always be pigeonholed for light romantic comedies in the future. Mike White's screenplay throws in some wonderful observations, and provides a good feel for the life of a small Texas town full of colorful eccentrics. Miguel Arteta also performs well as the director, blending the comedy and drama well, even if the American Beauty-ish nature in some scenes seems a little misguided, as the film isn't all that profound.
This lack of profundity is what keeps The Good Girl from being a good film, because for all the well-drawn characters, good performances, and entertaining interaction, by the end you realize that the film was nothing but build up to something that never really seems to develop. The seeds of inspiration were planted early on, yet they never bore fruit, and while we can't feel cheated because The Good Girl provided solid entertainment, we still have a nagging feeling that something is missing by the time the credits roll.
The Good Girl is recommended to watch Aniston in one of her better roles and for the funnier bits that make the time spent worthwhile, yet keep high expectations at bay. Although there's ample evidence of a promising future for all involved, as a whole, this film isn't ripe enough to fully satisfy.
©2002 Vince Leo