Conflict, characterization makes “Good Girl” great

Ted Pigeon

Unfortunately, Jennifer Aniston may always be known in the public eye as Rachel from “Friends.” She has starred in movies such as “Office Space” and “Picture Perfect,” but she will always hold the image of Rachel. But for those auspicious enough to see “The Good Girl,” it will be impossible to view her the same way.

In this independent film from the makers of the odd, but good film, “Chuck and Buck,” Aniston shines as a depressed retail clerk named Justine who is just fed up with life and yearns to break free from it all. It is a gripping film that never takes the easy way out and will stay with you long after the credits roll.

Justine works at a K-Mart-style store called the Retail Rodeo, a place that makes senior citizen bingo night look fun. As customers walk up and down the aisles of this sterile market, employees make demeaning comments to the customers over the P.A. system and no one even notices. For the most part, Justine sits there with a look of utter boredom on her face as she carries out her day’s work.

She comes home each night to find her husband, Phil (John C. Reilly) and his friend, Bubba (Tim Blake Nelson), smoking weed on the couch, watching television and occasionally making dumb comments. Although it angers her to see them doing this, Justine goes along with it each night, primarily because she’s used to it and knows that she can’t do anything about it. She goes to sleep miserable each night, only to wake up the next day and do it all again.

Justine is a quiet girl who appears to be content with her life, when in fact she hates it. Without anyone to understand what she goes through day in and day out, Justine keeps to herself.

But that all changes when she meets Holden (Jake Gyllenhall), the new employee who sits at the register reading “Catcher in the Rye” all day. Holden immediately intrigues Justine, probably because he doesn’t seem to follow the same lifeless pattern as everyone else. After spending their lunch breaks together, it’s clear that Justine and Holden are infatuated with each other; to use their Texan term, they just “git” each other. They have found the understanding in each other that they have each been seeking all their lives.

Don’t get the wrong impression of this movie. It is not a gleeful, happy, love story by any means, or a love story at all for that matter. Because as their relationship grows, a lot goes wrong in the cruel and boring world that surrounds them. It becomes clear that Holden is a troubled young man and cannot channel his emotions. He writes all the time, he tries to be poetic, cares nothing at all about what happens to himself and frequently talks about suicide. This is hard for Justine, whose life is as straight as an arrow.

Holden is not the only one confused, since Justine is in deep conflict as soon as her relationship starts with him. She ponders the idea of breaking free from her married life, yet has so much trouble doing it. She is given the opportunity to re-shape her life, but she’s not sure if it’s the right thing. She cannot let go of anything, even the things she claims to loathe.

“The Good Girl” is a satirical portrait of life in small-town America. It has many similarities to the 1999 Best Picture Winner “American Beauty.”

This film is not for everyone. The characters are so real that they do things even they don’t understand, let alone the audience. The focus of the film is on the inner conflict of Justine, and therefore, the film mostly rests on the shoulders of Aniston; it works so well because of the show-stopping performance she gives. Aniston’s Justine is played to perfection, and while her character falls victim to routine time and time again, “The Good Girl” is anything but a routine affair.