September 5, 2002

Good Stuff

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The title of Miguel Arleta’s newest film would suggests Justine, the central character is the archetypical American “good girl.” Despite working for a Texas convenience store called Retail Rodeo, attending to her perpetually stoned husband, and listening to the incessant banter of her co-workers, Justine bears her lot in life like a good girl.

That is, until she meets eyes with a disillusioned 22-year-old who seems to carry the same resent towards life as she does. Named after The Catcher in the Rye’s protagonist, Holden (Jake Gyllenhaal), who happens to be reading the J.D. Salinger masterpiece, becomes infatuated with his 30-year-old co-worker at the Retail Rodeo.

We later learn that Holden’s true name is Tom, but he prefers to be known as Holden. “Tom is my slave name,” he says. The name change marks only one way in which Tom tries to emulate Holden Caulfield’s fictional life.

Justine’s husband Phil (John C. Reilly), a painter who relishes rainy days so he and his friend Bubba (Tim Blake Nelson) can sit on the sofa, smoking up all day, doesn’t have the allure (or fertility) that Holden, an aspiring writer has.

Justine and Holden unite through their common dissatisfaction with the world and initiate a lurid affair. Excited by the intrigue of her illicit relationship with Holden, Justine is no longer the good girl she once was. “I like having a secret,” she tells him after one of their trysts.

However, guilt dogs Justine as she finds it harder to hide the affair from family and friends. She even makes a half-assed attempt to kill Holden. The situation compounds in complexity when Bubba witnesses the two checking into a hotel.

Aniston completely shed her Rachel Green persona and ventured far beyond Joanna, the snide waitress in 1999’s Office Space. With The Good Girl, Aniston has elevated her status to leading Hollywood lady.

Gyllenhaal straddles the line between depression and obsession as Holden, finally believing he has a soul mate in Justine after years of despair mixed with alcoholism and drug abuse.

The charm of the movie comes in the brief moments of black humor, many provided care of the fixtures at Retail Rodeo. Zooey Deschanel as the smart-mouthed Cheryl and Mike White as the Bible-thumping security guard Corny provide little gems, which keep The Good Girl teetering between drama and comedy.

Once Justine falls from the ranks of good girl, she tries to climb her way to redemption again. Some of her attempts are more successful than others. Attending a bible study doesn’t go over well. But an unplanned pregnancy might. An emotional final scene between Justine and Phil discussing the father of the child might provide a situation where two wrongs do make a right.

But The Good Girl doesn’t wrap into a nice neat package. Holden’s ending to his own story is more morose than that of his namesake. Moreover we’re left to wonder whether Justine and Phil can create a happier marriage based upon a child sired through adultery.

As with Justine’s previous choices, the ending is at the same time unsatisfying yet completely appropriate. Subversive while realistic, The Good Girl is at the least untraditional and true to its independent roots.

Archived article by Amanda Angel