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The Good Girl (2002) starstarstarstar
  Reviewed 2003-02-07: Some TV actors don't cross over well into film. Anybody remember David Caruso? But I can't think of enough superlatives to describe Jennifer Aniston's performance in this dark comedy, 2nd Lookdirected by Miguel Arteta (whose credits, like Aniston's, are mostly in TV). You can read her every thought in her sad face. Justine Last (Aniston) personifies the human desperation accompanying the Wal-Marting of America: she is a cosmetics clerk at the Retail Rodeo in some suburban Texas community — if community is the word to use for the bored, disaffected, hopeless lives all of the characters seem to lead.

Jennifer Aniston as Justine and
Jake Gyllenhaal as Holden
Hopeless, therefore lovers.
Justine is married to a boring husband, Phil (John C. Reilly, who I last saw in a similar role in the brilliant Chicago, 2002). Phil paints all day with his lapdog pal, Bubba (Tim Blake Nelson), and deals with his boredom by getting stoned with Bubba in front of the TV each night. Her co-workers are the security guard, Corny (Mike White, who wrote the script), who deals with his boredom by handing his life over to Christ; Gwen (Barbara Rush), the closest she has to a friend, who deals with her boredom by being industrious; and Cheryl (Zooey Deschanel), who deals with her boredom by flinging subtle taunts and obscenities at her customers:

Attention, shoppers. There's a Retail Rodeo special on aisle 3. Liquid Drain Cleaner, 2 12-ounce cans for $5.00. Liquid Drain Cleaner has churning power and it will churn right through your pipes. Ladies, you need female plumbing. Shove something clean and new up your filthy pipes. That's Liquid Drain Cleaner on aisle 3. Have a good day and thank you for shopping at Retail Rodeo.

Happy Halloween, Retail Rodeo shoppers. There's a Retail Rodeo special on all bulk candy on aisle 4. Ghouls and goblins, witches and warlocks, wandering these aisles day after day, I put a Halloween curse on your hellish heads.
Justine notices a new checker at the Retail Rodeo, Holden (Jake Gyllenhaal), who tells her that his name is from the book he's reading, Catcher in the Rye. "What's your name?" Justine asks, "Catcher?" But somehow the two "get" one another and spend the middle part of the movie having sex in every conceivable location, including the Retail Rodeo stockroom, but also at a local motel. It is there that Bubba spies them and subjects Justine to sexual blackmail because she has fallen from that perfect state in which he worshipped her as his hero Phil's wife.

I think only an independent film could risk this look at the bleakness of an America that is fast becoming one big company town. What would persuade a "good girl" like Justine to have an affair and hurt her husband? Perhaps it is, as I suspect, that sex is a way of saying, "I am alive." Even sex with the angst-ridden clerk Holden, who dropped out of college with a drinking problem, and who from the first seems to be the boy most likely to check out. Still, what would persuade Justine, after doing so many selfish and wrong things in the beginning, to make the right choices in the end? As she asks of her own life, "Is this your last best chance? Or are you going to your grave with unlived lives in your veins?" Although she never loses that sad face, perhaps Justine's last best chance is the unlived life (of unconfessed parentage) that she holds in her arms in the final scene. With her husband.

Agree? Disagree? Tell me!

Ronald Bruce Meyer is a freelance reviewer.