Related topics

At the Movies: ‘The Good Girl’

August 6, 2002 GMT

%mlink(STRY:; PHOTO:NYET113-080602; AUDIO:%)

``The Good Girl″ will finally make Jennifer Aniston a movie star.

She’s chosen big roles in bad movies (``Picture Perfect,″ ``Rock Star″), and small roles in good movies that few people saw (``Office Space″). And she’s been held back from film stardom because she’s so closely associated with Rachel Green, her ``Friends″ TV character for the past decade.

All that will change with ``The Good Girl.″

Her once trendsetting hair is pulled back in a slapdash ponytail, she wears no makeup, and her wardrobe consists entirely of baggy flannel shirts.


The real transformation, however, occurs within.

As Justine, a miserable discount store employee in a tiny Texas town, her isolation and restlessness are palpable _ a real testament to the depth of talent she’s hinted at but never had a chance to display, until now.

Justine works at the cosmetics counter, where the monotony of long days under fluorescent lights is broken up only by subversive public address announcements from her co-worker, Cheryl (a hilarious, scene-stealing Zooey Deschanel).

(``The Good Girl″ was shot in Southern California, but it nails the kitsch and the twang of small-town Texas.)

Justine has been married for seven years to lazy but lovable Phil (John C. Reilly), who works as a house painter but would rather sit on the couch all day and smoke pot with his buddy, Bubba (Tim Blake Nelson).

So when a new cashier (Jake Gyllenhaal) starts working at the store _ a quiet, younger man who calls himself Holden after the anti-hero of ``The Catcher in the Rye″ _ she’s immediately drawn to him.

``I saw in your eyes that you hate the world,″ Justine tells him the first time they’re alone together. ``I hate it too.″

And so they begin a passionate, doomed affair, which plays out over furtive lunch breaks and in cheap motels.

But Bubba discovers Justine’s infidelity and blackmails her, just as Justine discovers she’s pregnant _ and she knows the baby can’t be her husband’s, because he’s sterile. The good girl must figure out how to fix the bad things she’s done.

The movie comes from the same people who made ``Chuck & Buck″ two years ago _ director Miguel Arteta and writer Mike White _ in which White played a man-child with an unhealthy attachment to his childhood best friend.


It has a similar darkness, and occasionally a similar creepiness, but its subject matter is easier to take and its cast is better known, so it should have a much wider audience.

The third act gets a bit repetitive, though, and Holden grows annoyingly melodramatic. (``I want to knock your head open and see what’s inside,″ he gushes to Justine in one of his intense attempts at poetry.) But the details and dialogue in White’s script always ring true _ and he steals his own share of scenes as a judgmental, ultrareligious security guard.

All the performances from the stellar supporting cast are excellent, but again, this is Aniston’s show _ and it’s a wonderfully absurd one.

``The Good Girl,″ a Fox Searchlight Pictures release, is rated R for sexuality, some language and drug content. Running time: 94 minutes. Three stars (out of four).


Motion Picture Association of America rating definitions:

G _ General audiences. All ages admitted.

PG _ Parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

PG-13 _ Special parental guidance strongly suggested for children under 13. Some material may be inappropriate for young children.

R _ Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

NC-17 _ No one under 17 admitted.