U.S. Release Date: August 7, 2002
Distributor: Fox Searchlight
Director: Miguel Arteta
Writer: Mike White
Cast: Jennifer Aniston, Jake Gyllenhaal, Zooey Deschanel, John C. Reilly, Tim Blake Nelson
Running Time: 1 hour and 33 minutes
MPAA Rating: R (sexuality, some language and drug content)

Retail Roulette
by Billy Reeves

On the surface, The Good Girl is a story set deep within the banal recesses of small-town Texas hell, where a woman unsatisfied with her life commits various acts of sin and betrayal to "escape" from her misery. But if you look deeper you'll see something else. Miguel Arteta's movie is really about choices, consequences and self-discovery. It's about dealing with the prospect of what could have been and realizing that life is making the best with what you have.

Justine (Jennifer Aniston) is a flower in a desert of missed opportunity. She's the cosmetics counter girl at the Retail Rodeo, a discount store that makes Wal-Mart look like Neiman Marcus, and she's married to a painter named Phil (John C. Reilly) who "talks but doesn't think." He spends his nights getting stoned with his best friend Bubba (Tim Blake Nelson), also a painter.

Justine is miserable in every sense of the word and lays awake at night staring out the window, dreaming of a different life. She sees the world as a prison, one she has created for herself. The people that occupy her life are content with their mundane existence and carry on like zombies, blind to the emptiness that consumes them.

One day Justine discovers a light at the end of the tunnel in a new cashier (Jake Gyllenhaal) at the Retail Rodeo. He spends his time reading The Catcher in the Rye and even calls himself Holden, after the book's protagonist. Holden keeps to himself, but as he and Justine slowly become friends she realizes that they are the same: He hates the world as much as she does.

Holden sparks something inside her that she can't explain, putting an end to her unrequited misery. Somebody finally "gets her." So begins their secret love affair, one with so much heart and passion that Justine can't resist despite her guilty conscience. But when her secret begins to become an emotional burden on her, she must make the toughest decision of her life.

I will never look at Jennifer Aniston the same way again. This character is a far cry from the perky and spoiled Rachel Greene that she plays on Friends. When I look into that blank stare that inhabits her face for much of the movie, there is Justine. I feel her misery and her loneliness, and that's just from her facial expressions. I won't even begin to delve into her delightful southern accent, or the way she paints the perfect picture of Justine: Fear, confusion, hate, love and inspiration. If she doesn't get an Oscar nomination, I will be shocked.

Holden is different from Justine in only one respect. He is ready to escape his life completely, a step that she is just too afraid to take. Gyllenhaal does a superb job of playing Holden two different ways. When we first meet him, his uniqueness is his most attractive quality. Like Justine, he is a diamond in the rough of the banal Retail Rodeo. He brightens up her world and makes her feel alive again. But later we see him as immature, a danger to Justine's fragile existence. This is another reason we empathize with the characters. We are just as confused as they are. When Justine must choose between her two lives, you really feel her pain—a complete success on the part of this incredible cast.

This story has been called a comedy. I'm not sure if it deserves that title because I saw it as more of a drama. It did make me laugh however. Ironically, there are some "colorful" characters in the drab little town. Cheryl (Zooey Deschanel) is one of Justine's co-workers at the Retail Rodeo and gets a little crazy on the P.A. She's then moved to cosmetics where she makes a mockery of her customers with some not so flattering makeovers. Justine's husband Phil and his friend Bubba are a hoot too. Even though you feel sorry for Justine, you can't help but laugh when Bubba says things like, "If I were a woman, I'd be a slut. A lesbian slut."

The moral of The Good Girl is this: There is no escape from consequence, and any attempt at doing so breeds further consequence.

This is one of the best movies of the year. Have a few laughs, learn some life lessons and witness some soulful performances by an extremely talented group of actors. What more could you ask for?

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