Movie Reviews

Movie Review: The Good Girl – A Good Little Film

Written by Mike White
Directed by Miguel Arteta

Life changes happen for a variety of reasons. Normally, a person reaches a time of one’s life and decides that they either haven’t achieved what they expected by that time or that they are just going through the motions in the life they are living. This is a normal “mid-life crisis”. In the case of other people, however, a sudden event can cause them to re-examine their lives and what is lacking in them.

Jennifer Aniston is Justine, a check-out girl in a Wal-Mart-type store called “Retail Rodeo”. She’s having a life crisis. There’s a new cashier named Holden (portrayed by Jake Gyllenhaal) who intrigues her. He’s only 22 to her 30, but he is very different than her husband. He calls himself Holden after the main character in Catcher in the Rye.

Her home life – oh, could I identify with it. Comes home and her husband, Phil (portrayed by John C. Reilly), and his buddy, Bubba (portrayed by Tim Nelson) are stoned and sitting on the couch watching cartoons. They are painters and he has gotten paint from his clothes all over the couch – she’s frustrated. “How come everything we have that’s nice ends up like this.” He’s a pot-head who seems to take her for granted.

Holden makes her feel different – bringing her alive again. Makes her almost like a giddy teenager herself. Soon they are having an affair, despite the fact that Justine is torn. Once they embark on that path, however, she doesn’t want to leave Holden to go back home to her husband.

When her co-worker Gwenn (portrayed by Deborah Rush) dies, it sets her in the mind of deeper thoughts about her current situation, as well as guilt. She also begins seeing that even without her husband in the picture, Holden does not exactly have a promising future.

As she tries to work on her relationship with her husband, she discovers his friend saw her at the motel with Holden. When she tries to attend a Bible Study with her husband, the desk clerk from the motel walks up, scaring her off. Everywhere she seems to turn her illicit affair seems to be on the brink of becoming known.

When Bubba confronts Justine, she learns how much he revered her at one time and was terribly envious of her and Phil’s relationship. Now he threatens to tell Phil unless Justine will sleep with him.

The story is interesting, if at times contrived. Justine doesn’t have a good life and I could easily sympathize with her. She has always been “The Good Girl” (hence the title) and for the first time in her life she is acting out. How her actions affect not just her, but Holden, as well as Phil, do not concern her for quite some time.

This is one of the few roles I’ve actually enjoyed Jennifer Aniston in. She handles the role of Justine well without the whining that I always found present in other characters she’s portrayed. This is most certainly a role that could fall into the whiny category very easily. She has good chemistry with her co-stars and seems to be at ease with the character and what’s asked of her.

Jake Gyllenhaal as Holden is really good. He was so convincing as the kid who never fit in and was never appreciated in high school. Getting the attention of a pretty older woman which eventually leads to the romps in the bedroom the likes of which he probably fantasized about with his friends over the table in the cafeteria at lunchtime is his dream come true, and he doesn’t look much beyond it. Gyllenhaal is convincing in the role despite what I thought was an inherent cuteness, but he conveys it with an awkwardness where I could just see he’d dreamed of the cheerleader in high school and now was finally getting her.

And that is the mesh where I saw these two characters. Justine was in all likelihood the popular girl who did everything as she was supposed to and ended up with a life less than what she thought it would be. Phil was probably a football player; they were a perfect couple. The reality of life after high school is much different. Although Phil seems satisfied with his less-than-stellar existence, Justine is wondering if this is all there is. Holden seems to offer her an alternative, but in reality, he hasn’t struck out any differently and isn’t offering Justine a future brighter than the one she has with Phil, just different.

The problem I had was with the frantic ending. As Holden seems to go over the deep end and Justine seems to become more and more insistent that what she’s done remains a secret from Phil, the film descends into some comedy. I suppose I was expected to laugh, but I couldn’t. I was sad for all of them. There’s some other comedy in the film, although the best lines seem to be courtesy of a fellow retail clerk, Cheryl (portrayed by Zooey Deschanel).

The film was beautiful. For a character-driven story, I took some note of the cinematography and the use of lighting. In the store, the lighting is used to make it a very morose place. The people all seem depressed to be there and the lighting seems to accentuate it.

It’s not a horrible film by any means, but I found myself troubled a bit. I’ve often said, “The devil you know is sometimes better than the one you don’t…” Justine seems to take that saying to heart. It’s not a film designed to give someone hope that the life change they crave will provide them with the uplift they want. In that respect, I liked Lost in Translation better. It conveyed the same message of learning to be content with the life you had but allowed room for hope of something beyond it.