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IN SHORT: Good one out of the arthouse circuit. [Rated R for sexuality, some language and drug content. 93 minutes]
The more we see, the more we see categories of films that we see. Teenage rebellion and young adult versus the world are the classic subgenres. Lately there has been a shift to a ton of midlife crisis films featuring older actresses. Smack dab in the middle of all of 'em is the "I'm Thirty and what am I doing with my life" film that is perfectly represented by The Good Girl. The creators of this film, same pair as did Chuck & Buck a pair of years back, have crafted this story in the mode of a prison flick -- if prison is a nowhere job in a nowhere town in the nowhere section of a state so large one end doesn't know from the other -- where the dream of escape is nothing more than that. A dream.
Yep, it's another analysis of real people in real life situations, the kind that tends to swamp the indie circuit. The difference here is that we happen to like the team of White and Arteta, who manage to slip off the wall humor into the most mundane situations. That keeps everything interesting, even as you start to work yourself into the mindset of the characters seen on screen. The characters White creates are real and interesting. There's nothing pretentious or "film school" about the project and, even if The Good Girl does tend to run a bit on the slow side, it rides far above most of the indieflicks we see. Attribute that slowness to its location in the town of Wasteland Texas -- the name is in our press notes, it's never mentioned in the film but is totally appropriate -- where everyone shops in the Retail Rodeo store (think of a Woolworth's or K-Mart built twenty-five years ago and never improved) and just about everyone in the Retail Rodeo wishes they were someplace else
Mike White's script offers us very detailed and easy to differentiate characters, centering on Justine Last (Jennifer Aniston), married 7 years to stoner house painter Phil (John C. Reilly) and starting to wonder "where the baby is" now that she's thirty. Phil's partner, Bubba (Tim Blake Nelson) is incredibly envious of his friend's settled life. He'll discover that a little hero worship goes a long way before all is said and done.
Back in the store, nihilistic Cheryl (Zooey Deschanel) works the PA, security guard Corny (Mike White) preaches for Jesus and cosmetics clerk Gwen Jackson (Deborah Rush) is about to take a most unexpected journey. The only happy person on the floor is, actually, on the manager's podium. That would be Jack Field (John Carroll Lynch), the manager.
This is Justine's story, though, and her eye is focused on the newbie register clerk Holden Worther (Jake Gyllenhaal) a man-boy obsessed with "The Catcher in the Rye". Holden still lives with his parents. He's too intellectual (or the gene pool is too shallow) to play with girls his age. Justine is frustrated so ... will she go tadpoling (well, duh) and what will be the consequences (many more than we'll reveal, though they will affect everyone in the store). Once again, White pens a story which treads a fine moral line, as he did in Chuck & Buck. We hear Justines's internal torment thanks to a running voice over and, even though the end is predictable (in the same way that all stories involving "The Catcher in the Rye" seem to go) the quirks in each character kept our attention up even as the slow pace tried to turn us off.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to The Good Girl, he would have paid . . .
We liked The Good Girl. If you've been exposed to White's sense
of humor thanks to a rental of Chuck & Buck, move on up to
the big screen. If you don't watch Friends (or have no interest
in Aniston's big screen adventure) don't fear the rental bin.
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