Like Chuck & Buck, The Good Girl is not a cheerful movie. In fact, the word "bleak" sprung to mind about halfway through and stuck around through the end. Which isn't to say there aren't some laugh-out-loud moments -- a couple of times my guffaws echoed in the near empty theater -- but I was chuckling mostly because I was surprised that they managed to cram any humor into this story at all. Aniston plays Justine, a run-down clerk at the Retail Rodeo, a woman who hates her job, hates her husband, and isn't too keen on life itself. She probably shouldn't be flirting with her 22 year-old misfit coworker -- both because she's 8 years his senior and because he is consumed by sullen melancholy that he calls himself "Holden" in honor of Catcher in the Rye -- but Justine sees him as a kindred soul, someone as unhappy as she. They eventually wind up together, but they never seem to especially like each other -- they've just joined forces to dislike the world as a team. The problem is that they are coming at their misanthropy from different angles: Holden is overly idealistic, viewing himself as a tortured genius and others as dullards who don't "get him," while Justine is utterly pessimistic, convinced that life has already passed her by. Well, the real problem, I suppose, is that depression and adultery are not the world's solidest foundations for a fulfilling relationship.
Both the clumsy affair and its muddling consequences feel achingly real. Aniston is as far removed from her Friends persona as possible, with an expression of perpetual exhaustion and a voice filled with weariness. Even her motions seem bereft of energy. Actor Jake Gyllenhaal (who starred in Donnie Darko and looks like a store brand Toby Maguire) manages make Holden come across as both wild-eyed and sedate. And John C. Reilly, in the role of Justine's husband Phil, stumbles blearily through the film as a poster boy for those warning that pot will renders you witless. Only the character of Bubba -- Phil's workmate and best friend -- seems contrived. But in a movie so unrelentingly realistic, the offbeat buddy is not an unwelcome addition.
I've been wondering where this year's knock-me-down-fantastic films are, the Mementos and Mulholland Drives. Everything I've seen in 2002 has been "good but not great," and The Good Girl is no exception. That said, it's the best I've seen all year (tied, perhaps, with The Endurance). Last year I might have dismissed it and pointed you to Ghost World instead. This year I recommend it highly.Posted on September 03, 2002 to Movies