How come Jennifer Aniston can be so irresistible on TV but doesn’t leave much of an impression on the big screen? Is Rachel all there is to her? From watching “The Good Girl”, it certainly seems so. I didn’t find her convincing for a second, and I couldn’t care less what happened to her character. The writing is partly at fault, but I’m sure many actresses could have made Justine more involving. Maybe the problem is that I’ve identified her too much with her “Friends” persona, the pampered daddy’s girl who lives to shop in trendy boutiques, and I can’t buy her as an ordinary small town Texas department store clerk. We’re supposed to feel sad with Justine, who finds her life to be a prison and thinks that her husband Phil (the always endearing John C. Reilly) doesn’t “get” her, but I wanted to play the smallest violin in the world and say to her Boo farking hoo, you’re a gorgeous woman with a husband who loves you! So what if you work at Retail Rodeo, maybe if you’d gone to college you’d have a better job…
“The Good Girl” is the second collaboration between director Miguel Arteta and screenwriter Mike White, but it shares little resemblance with their creepy, powerful Chuck and Buck. Their latest feature is a mopey, dull, American Beautyish suburbia-is-hell story. You got a protagonist who feels sedated, a similar score, supposedly thoughtful narration and most damning, Jake “Bubble Boy” Gyllenhaal emulating Wes Bentley. He plays a 22 year old co-worker of Justine who wants people to call him Holden, like the “Catcher in the Rye” character he thinks he’s like. What he doesn’t realise is that while Holden Caufield is a fascinating if disturbed individual, all he is a whiny phony. Unlike Holden (or Bentley’s Ricky Fitts), he’s not sincere, intense or deep, he’s just a shallow little bitch who depresses himself on purpose to be interesting.
The movie is about how Justine gets involved with “Holden”. I wouldn’t call this a romance, as all they do is shag in the stockroom or in crummy motels and talk about how they hate their lives and no one gets them. They’re really obvious about the affair, which means that sooner or later they’ll get caught. This leads to rather stupid twists involving Phil’s redneck best friend (Tim Blake Nelson), blackberries, low sperm and a gun. I never felt for the two of them; they’re so dim-witted and selfish that they deserve to be unhappy. The only character I had sympathy for is the wronged husband. He’s supposed to be a “pig”, a house painter who’s always smoking pot and watching TV, but he’s a nice, caring guy who knows better than to always be negative.
There are some amusing moments in “The Good Girl”, mostly in the Retail Rodeo scenes with Zooey Deschanel’s cynical cashier, John Carroll Lynch’s dorky manager and Mike White himself as a bible thumping security guard, but on the whole the film is drab and boring.