Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Miguel Arteta
Stars: Jennifer Aniston, Jake Gyllenhaal, John C Reilly, Tim Blake Nelson, Zooey Deschanel, Mike White, John Carroll Lynch, Deborah Rush
Of the Friends cast, only the female stars seem to have traded on their small screen fame for big screen success. Lisa Kudrow has probably been the most successful of the solo Friends, with roles in hit films like Analyze This, etc, although Courtney Cox has found box office success through the Scream franchise. While Jennifer Aniston has had less box office success, she continues to choose interesting roles and play largely against type in independent films like the pitch black comedy The Good Girl.
Written by Mike White (the little seen Chuck & Buck, which screened at MIFF a couple of years ago) and directed by Miguel Arteta (Star Maps), The Good Girl is a poignant and slyly comic examination of the stillness and quiet desperation of ordinary people trapped in dead end lives. The Good Girl follows similar themes to the recent About Schmidt and Punch-Drunk Love, and Arteta’s unhurried, measured direction perfectly suits the tone of the piece. He beautifully captures the dullness and banality of small town rural America, and presents an unattractive view of life for his main protagonists, who have little hope of escape or finding satisfaction.
Aniston plays Justine, a clerk at the Retail Rodeo discount department store. But she is bored with her dead end job and her lifeless marriage to pothead house painter Phil (John C Reilly). She temporarily finds escape through an illicit affair with Holden (Jake Gyllenhaal), the new clerk at the store. The handsome but immensely troubled Holden has deliberately styled himself after Holden Caulfield, the troubled misfit at the centre of the cult novel Catcher In The Rye. Holden is a little obsessive in his pursuit of a relationship with Justine, who finds her once orderly life spinning out of control. Eventually Justine is forced to choose between an unexciting and predictable life with the plain Phil or a dangerous and giddy life of unexpected adventure on the run with the impetuous Holden. Her decision will have unexpected and tragic ramifications.
With roles in films like Donnie Darko and Moonlight Mile, Gyllenhaal seems to have cornered the niche on adolescent angst at the moment, and he delivers yet another intelligent and soulful performance. He is well matched by Aniston’s subtle and restrained performance as a woman caught up in events beyond her understanding or ability to cope. The pair are well supported by the solid ensemble cast that also includes Reilly, heartbreaking as her husband; Tim Blake Nelson as Phil’s sleazy and desperately lonely partner; Zooey Deschanel brings some comic relief to the film as the clueless cosmetics clerk; and John Carroll Lynch (from The Drew Carey Show, etc) as the store manager.
Well written and nicely acted, The Good Girl is not a film that will appeal to all audiences however, as it may prove a bit too bleak, uncomfortably close to the bone, and honest.