The Good Girl

on August 07, 2002 by Annlee Ellingson
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   “Chuck and Buck” director Miguel Arteta and writer Mike White reunite for this black comedy about a Texas Retail Rodeo cashier who, at 30 years old, feels her life has flat-lined. She senses an opportunity for resuscitation when a disaffected youth joins the staff, and she embarks on an affair with the young man.

   “The Good Girl” lacks the unpleasant pathos of the duo's first collaboration, which, with its dislikable and disturbing titular characters, incited a desire to look away. But here, with television star Jennifer Aniston in the lead role, the dark edge has been softened.

   Justine (Aniston) finds her domestic life as disheartening as her drab job, coming home night after night to find her house-painter husband Phil (John C. Reilly) and his dim-witted friend Bubba (Tim Blake Nelson) smoking pot and staining her living room furniture with their dirty work clothes. To make matters worse, Justine and Phil have been unable to conceive, and she has been bearing the blame for being barren. When Justine meets Holden (Jake Gyllenhaal), self-named after the protagonist in J.D. Salinger's “Catcher in the Rye,” she sees an opportunity for escape, first figuratively, as they sneak away for illicit trysts, then literally, as she contemplates running away with him forever.

   The role marks a risky departure for Aniston, known and loved by millions of Americans as Rachel on the hit sitcom “Friends.” Here she's not glamorous but plain, not perky but bored. Even her infamous 'do has been pulled back into a nondescript bun. That Justine is so removed from Rachel is a testament to Aniston's untapped talent in dramatic fare. Still, her luminous blue eyes, beautiful yet earnest under a pinched brow, sear an indelible image.

   Which is part of the reason “The Good Girl” forfeits the impact that marked “Chuck and Buck”: Justine is likable; Justine is relatable. Not even her most questionable decisions--having sex with Bubba to keep him quiet about her affair is not one of her finer moments--cause the cringe-inducing discomfort of the earlier work that ultimately made it much more thought-provoking. “The Good Girl” is more marketable than “Chuck and Buck.” It is also more forgettable. Starring Jennifer Aniston, Jake Gyllenhaal, John C. Reilly, Tim Blake Nelson, Zooey Deschanel and Mike White. Directed by Miguel Arteta. Written by Mike White. Produced by Matthew Greenfield. A Fox Searchlight release. Comedy/drama. Not yet rated. Running time: 93 min

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