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The Good Girl
cast: Jennifer Aniston, Jake Gyllenhaal, John C. Reilly, Tim Blake Nelson, and Mike White

director: Miguel Arteta

93 minutes (15) 2002 widescreen ratio 1.85:1
20th Century Fox DVD Region 2 rental and retail
Also available to buy or rent on video

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Debbie Moon
Justine (Jennifer Aniston) is a cosmetics counter attendant in a dismal supermarket in a Texas town; at night, she goes home to her pot-smoking slob of a husband, and considers her failure to conceive. She's looking for something to shake her out of her apathetic life - and she finds it, in the form of brooding checkout operator Holden (Jake Gyllenhaal), a college dropout and would-be writer permanently stuck in the 'no one understands me' phase. She seizes the opportunity with enthusiasm, but adultery in a small town is fraught with complications, and soon romance has given way to fumbles in the stockroom and whispered recriminations.
   As fears of discovery, humiliation, even eternal damnation, press in on her, Justine decides to become a 'good girl' again - but to do so, she's going to have to do things more terrible than anything she's done for love...
   Jennifer Aniston attracted rave reviews for this quiet, bitter personal drama, and it's easy to see why. Transformed from her glamorous Friends persona, she delivers a powerful performance as an intelligent woman too numb to know what she wants from her life, both excited by and afraid of a taste of freedom. She's ably supported by rising star Gyllenhaal, who manages to show Holden as both tragic and childishly despicable, and the dependable John C. Reilly, who seems to be making a career of playing loyal but put-upon husbands.
   The bleak story is tinged with humour, and contains a couple of genuine tragic surprises, rarely opting for the obvious or the comfortable - with the exception of that old favourite, the diagnosis of the husband's infertility just as the wife discovers she's pregnant, a predictable device that weakens the latter part of the film. The low-key ending, however, is perfectly judged.    A quiet, absorbing film whose main strength lies in strong central performances, The Good Girl is a sharp insight into human weakness and lost hopes, and the thoroughly immoral choices we make in order to be 'good'. Well worth seeking out.
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