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The Good Girl (R)
Fox Searchlight Pictures
Official Site
Director: Miguel Arteta
Producer: Matthew Greenfield
Written by: Mike White
Cast: Jennifer Aniston, Jake Gyllenhaal, Tim Blake Nelson, John C. Reilly, Mike White, Zooey Deschanel, Deborah Rush


At first you think, oh no, a Texan Rachel Green. This is after Jennifer Aniston’s twangy voice-over kicks in right after the credits of The Good Girl. But then, the movie gets started, and I’ll be damned if Aniston doesn’t just blow you away with her performance.

Aniston plays Justine Last, a small-town young married who spends days wasting away behind the cosmetics counter at the Retail Rodeo and nights listening to her aimless husband ( Reilly) and his best friend Bubba ( Nelson) speculate on wall-painting techniques while the two puff the Magic Dragon. Needless to say, this isn’t the life she had planned for herself when she graduated high school. But now, 30 years old and no closer to leaving town than she was 10 years ago, Justine has become resigned to live in this sealed-off little world where men talk without thinking, women create false images of their own happiness, and none of them have any prospects.

This is until she meets Holden Worther ( Gyllenhaal, doing his broody thing so well). A Catcher in the Rye fan (hence his name), Holden works one of the cashier’s stations at the Retail Rodeo. He always keeps to himself, and in a place where people endlessly talk about nothing, Holden’s introversion appeals to Justine. And so she befriends him, and the two eventually start an affair based on their mutual realization that, hey, we’re outcasts. Let’s be different together!

The Good Girl has some truly profound moments lingering throughout its running time, but if it isn’t in the end quite the sum of its parts, it’s definitely an ambitious, truthful examination of what makes an outsider an outsider. These are characters who just “want to get gotten,” who find that hating the world is a crutch to help them function in it. They want to break out of the lives they’ve been dealt, but at the same time, are afraid to destroy what’s worked for so long. Such is the dichotomy of the outcast, and screenwriter White and director Arteta know this. Their first feature together, 2000’s Chuck And Buck, also examined what it’s like not to fit in, but where that film’s main character refused to grow up, to live life as a responsible adult with normal relationships, The Good Girl’s two leads are disaffected precisely because they’ve grown up. They can’t stop themselves from being distanced from the world, and yes, they are being distanced instead of doing the distancing themselves, and it’s something they’re helpless to fight off. The Good Girl’s ultimate message seems to be an argument for the involuntary nature of alienation, how someone can be fully aware of her isolation, even embarrassed or ashamed by it, but in the end has no power to undo it.

Throughout The Good Girl, and especially in Gyllenhaal’s scenes, there’s this idea that being different somehow makes you a better person, that just beating to a different drum automatically makes your drum sound better. This is the central conceit to the character of Holden Worther, but it goes beyond that. Looking closer, it’s possible to understand Holden’s arrogant-outsider attitude as a tool he can use to find someone genuine. The only thing he wants in this world is for someone to get him. At one point, he tells Justine, “You don’t get me,” and, in his mind, this is the harshest accusation anyone can hear. It’s the ultimate crime: it makes you just like everyone else.

But Justine isn’t like everyone else; we know that. Aniston plays her as a sometimes baffled, usually overwhelmed, always frustrated hausfrau-type who wants to act out against the people keeping her down but doesn’t really know how to do that. Say what you want about “Friends,” but the last two seasons have really uncovered a brilliantly mature side to Aniston’s acting, and, for her, The Good Girl seems, strangely, the natural extension from the confines of the weekly sitcom to the openness of the feature drama, because, while The Good Girl does illustrate the freedom of film, the story feels very cramped. This is a good thing, though, because Justine feels the same way. It’s her life we’re watching, and if she’s going to be uncomfortable in it, then we are too. This is the film’s attitude, that life is the way it is. At one point, a character says, “Don’t steal, and don’t be disturbed.” He then proceeds to scoff at his own advice. That’s the crux of The Good Girl right there. People understand what they need to do to change. But the fact is, they couldn’t care less.

—Cole Sowell


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