The Good Girl (2002)

The first time I saw this, I was in a hotel by myself and just ran across it. I have no idea what made me stop on it, considering I’ve never been a big Jennifer Aniston fan–perhaps I saw Jake Gyllenhaal, who I DO like, and that’s what stopped me. Whatever the case, I found it was not at all what I expected, at the time I saw it as bitterly comedic at most and far more dramatic and character-driven than I expected of a movie with Aniston in it.

Unsurprisingly, I don’t seem to be alone in this; I know someone who rented it expecting the kind of comedy you’d think you’d find Aniston in and being massively depressed by it. The movie’s about a woman (Aniston) who has let slip any chance at happiness in the interest of retaining a lover and eventual husband, only to realize, seven years later, that she is living a banal life with little hope or passion in it, with a lazy pothead husband and a job at “Retail Rodeo”–a small town store that’s a good few notches of size and content below a Wal-Mart, but in the same general vein. She meets a young coworker (Jake Gyllenhaal) there who injects mystery, passion, secrets and romance into her life, but is not quite perceptive enough to realize how depressed and damaged he is until she has already entangled her life in his.

It’s not the happiest of movies, and much of what happens within is not terribly cheerful. It is, however, technically still a comedy–it’s simply not that kind. It’s a black, sarcastic, bitter sort of comedy, not overplayed and bombastic as most modern and popular comedies are, though not terribly subtle either–Zooey Deschanel plays a rebellious girl who works at the same store and takes enjoyment from first using the PA to make euphemistic announcements to the customers, and later to make women up in the makeup department as clowns and otherwise unnatural looking people. Some humour comes from John C. Reilly as Justine’s rather clueless pothead of a husband, who can’t quite seem to get four out of two and two most of the time.

The performances are pretty strong all around, the cheerful and goofy dumbness of Reilly is not surprising, but his overall well-meaning basic goodness is, somewhat, in conjunction with his relative subservience. Aniston is shockingly good for someone who comes from a banal sitcom, and Jake, well, Jake I already knew was good, but here he plays a guy who identifies far too much with Holden Caulfield–even going by Holden publicly–and does so far too well, in some ways.

Still it’s a surprisingly good and overall very solid movie, especially from a relative unknown director–though I think it’s worth noting that he did, in fact, direct episodes of both Homicide: Life on the Street and Six Feet Under.

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