Review: The Good Girl

by Jake Sproul

Rating: (out of )

For Justine Last, routine is a funny thing. She despises its dullness, yet requires its consistence. She is so desperate to leave her surprise less, mundane life; she wants more from life, but is too afraid to go out and get it. So goes the plot of The Good Girl, one of the most brilliant and well-crafted films of 2002.

The Good Girl has been on the radar since January when it debuted to rave reviews at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. With such names as Jennifer Aniston, Zooey Deschenel, and Jake Gyllenhaal starring, it stuck out like a soar thumb at the Indie flick festival. After viewing it is obvious that it should not only stick out because of the names, but also because of the fabulous content.

I must admit, that I have been waiting quite some time to see The Good Girl. I first heard about it in January, and then I anxiously awaited its expansion after its August 7th extremely limited release. It was sure worth the wait though. The Good Girl is a series of pointiest observations about society and the world told through the eyes of troubled member of the world. Suffice it to say, I truly enjoyed the experience that is, The Good Girl.

Jennifer Aniston has made a daring and wise career choice by taking the part of Justine Last, who spends her days toiling away at the cosmetics department of the Retail Rodeo, a local K-Mart type store. She longs for more than her mundane job and her sweet, yet pothead husband, Phil (John C. Reilly). Phil and Justine have been trying to conceive with out luck. Phil feels that a baby is the answer to their marital problems. And as the affair between Justine and Holden grows deeper, Justine’s thoughts of a baby drift and she begins to see a baby as only a temporary band aid. She feels utterly lost and depressed. She finds someone equally as lost and misunderstood in fellow Retail Rodeo employee and eternal outcast Tom (Jake Gyllenhaal), but prefers to be called Holden because he pictures himself as a modern day Holden Caulfield.

Justine and Holden begin to discover more about each other and themselves through their mutual hatred of the world. They soon fall in love and begin an illicit affair. Justine finds her new love thrilling and worth while. But as they she begins to spin into deep lies, she realizes that her life wasn’t as bad as she thought.

The dialogue of The Good Girl is very well written. Drama with a biting satire sown into the seems. The well written script assists the movie in developing the characters well. We may not really like the character of Justine, but we respect her because she is an exaggeration of a person that we all have living down deep inside of us. On the other hand, the weirdness of Holden is hard to believe, he turns into little more than a plot device, used to further to advancement of the character of Justine, rather than an actual character. Which makes Justine all the more interesting.

The starting realism of this film is haunting. Like all children, Justine dreamt of big things, but now finds she waiting for anything...nothing. Justine is an idealist and finds herself unable to conform to the realities of the lower class and a fantasy free life.

The Good Girl is one of the most well acted films I have seen this year. It is beyond superlative. Even the bit characters emit an exuberance not found in some of the main performances in other motion pictures. Jennifer Aniston has proven herself worthy of all the attention she has been getting lately. She shines in such a dark and unusual role. Jake Gyllenhaal makes The Good Girl the 2nd in a trio of recent independent films, (Lovely and Amazing, The Good Girl, and the soon to be released Moonlight Mile). His performance is excellent. The fact that the character of Tom is such a very difficult character to play, Gyllenhaal‘s workmanship deserves further kudos. One might wonder if a person so disturbed might actually exist in this world. Zooey Deschenel, who plays a fellow Retail Rodeo employee who enjoys saying off-color and glib comments over the store’s P.A. system, turns in a hilarious performance as the most outwardly hilarious character in this “dramedy.” Rounding out the ensemble cast is John C. Reilly, Justine’s husband who is equally as pitiful as Justine, subdued way. (We find out at the end of the film that he feels equally as trapped and depressed as his wife). He are naturally drawn to the character of Phil. We feel bad for him because we think that he enjoys his blissful ignorance in his ho-hum life.

I find it hard to come up with more words to describe the superiority of The Good Girl. The movie takes you by the throat, and leaves a permanent mark. The characters in The Good Girl are very memorable ones, their images not easily erased. If you see any movie this August, make it this one. Forget Good, this is the GREAT Girl!

© 2002 Jake Sproul

*All of us here at Teen Film Reviews would like to congratulate Jennifer Aniston on her very well deserved 2002 Emmy Award.*

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