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'Good Girl, The'

Indie 'Good Girl' has Aniston and Gyllenhaal deal with desperation

Friday, August 30, 2002

By Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

On screen, actor Jake Gyllenhaal has become the go-to guy for misguided married women looking for meaning and passion in their lives. He was Catherine Keener's underage refuge in "Lovely & Amazing" and in "The Good Girl," finds himself clinging crazily to Jennifer Aniston, who works across the aisle in a Texas store called Retail Rodeo.

'The Good Girl'

RATING: R for sexuality, some language and drug use.

PLAYERS: Jennifer Aniston, Jake Gyllenhaal.

DIRECTOR: Miguel Arteta.


Local movie showtimes


Aniston is Justine Last, an unhappy clerk married to a house painter named Phil (John C. Reilly) who relaxes after work with his buddy (Tim Blake Nelson) by drinking beer, smoking dope and watching mindless television. They and others appear anesthetized by the TV; if they would just get away from the box, they would see the fireworks exploding in their own lives.

Thirty-year-old Justine ostensibly works at Retail Rodeo's cosmetics counter where she and an upbeat, older female colleague give free makeovers to women who never seem to buy any products. Despite its insouciant name, the store looks like it reeks of desperation. It seems overstaffed, understocked and almost empty most of the time.

Justine's life changes when a new employee named Holden (Gyllenhaal) starts manning one of the cash registers. Holden, a 22-year-old college dropout and would-be writer who has adopted his name from "The Catcher in the Rye," and Justine become kindred spirits whose families -- his parents, her husband -- don't "get" or understand them.

They move from sharing a lunch table to slipping into the supply room or dallying at a nearby motel. We watch Justine as she makes a series of decisions, some more ill-advised, ruinous and self-serving than others, affecting her and everyone around her.

This indie movie reunites director Miguel Arteta and writer-actor Mike White, the team behind the sadly comic "Chuck & Buck." Arteta, who also directed "Star Maps," has said his films deal with "characters who do not have the tools they need to live a full life and to cope with life properly."

White, who penned "Good Girl" and plays a store security guard, wanted to write the film like a prison movie. "I wanted to capture the feeling that everyone is imprisoned and secretly plotting their escapes."

That may be true of Holden, but Justine is like a convict who's been behind bars so long that she doesn't know if she can survive on the outside. And yet while Justine sounds, acts, moves and dresses little like Aniston's "Friends" counterpart of Rachel, she seems to project more intelligence than her choices would indicate. Or maybe it's just that the narration she periodically delivers is smarter than her character.

The paradoxically named "Good Girl" is set in Texas, but was filmed in California so you really don't get a sense of how the vast surroundings have swallowed up the people. Or how, as in "The Rookie," the big, lonely landscape can seem overwhelming.

Even with her darker-than-usual hair pulled back and her toned body hidden under workaday jeans and sweaters, Aniston is still a head-turner. She tamps down her confidence and sparkle so much that she nearly underacts as the woman navigating the messy maze her life has become. Gyllenhaal, on the other hand, gets to overreact to virtually everything that happens to Holden.

Some of the supporting characters -- Zooey Deschanel and Deborah Rush as fellow employees and John Carroll Lynch as the store manager -- are on target, and Reilly nicely fills the role of a dopey house painter willing to accept a lie when the truth would be too hurtful to handle. Although "The Good Girl" often seems condescending to its working-class protagonists who spend evenings at Bible study or planted in front of the TV, "The Good Girl" proves that Aniston should have no trouble finding work once the "Friends" finale arrives nine months from now.

Barbara Vancheri can be reached at bvancheri@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1632.

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