Directed by: Miguel Arteta
Written by:Mike White
Starring: Jennifer Aniston, Jake Gyllenhaal, John C. Reilly, Tim Blake Nelson, Zooey Deschanel
Released: April 24, 2003
Grade: B+

For an actor, the crossover from television into film is a challenging hurdle and for Jennifer Aniston, The Good Girl may be proof that she’s successfully made the transition.  Her character, Justine, has recently turned 30 and is at a crossroads in her life.   She’s been married to her husband Phil (Reilly) for seven years but they have been successful in conceiving a child.  He’s a painter, she works as a shop assistant at the Retail Rodeo and their life together is quite dull.  The word “love” seems to have lost its meaning.

Deep down, Justine knows this but she is trapped by routine and lacks the courage to make a change.  At her work, a new employee grabs her attention.  Holden (Gyllenhaal) is a 22-year-old loner who doesn’t socialise with the other staff, eats lunch on his own, and generally says very little.  Justine introduces herself and Holden, sensing an attraction, opens up.  He’s recovering alcoholic who dropped out of college and is now living back home with his parents.  What they both share is a disenchantment with their own lives and their depression acts as a catalyst to bring them together.

The two begin an affair but the secret reaches a point where it can no longer be contained.  Holden wants them to elope and leave the misery behind by starting a fresh life together.  Justine’s decision isn’t quite as clear.  Despite the lack of passion in their relationship, how can she leave her always courteous and faithful husband?  Things are further complicated when Phil’s best friend, Bubba (Nelson), sees Justine with Holden and intends to use the information to blackmail her.  It’s a life changing moment for Justine. Choices need to be made but there is no time in which to make them.

Aniston is wonderful and in touch with her character.  Her consistent expression is one of boredom and you hear the tiredness in her voice.  Further, she uses her emotions to help the audience empathise with her situation – she’s not necessarily making all the right decisions but we understand why she is making them.  Love interest Jake Gyllenhaal (who starred in the brilliant October Sky and Donnie Darko) also plays an intriguing character although I would have liked him to have a greater screen presence with a deeper insight into his “psychotic” persona.  Zooey Deschanel gives the film light comic relief with a cute performance as Justine’s assistant, Cheryl.

I praised the quality of Mike White’s screenplay in last year’s Orange County and my opinion is unchanged having seen The Good Girl.  Perhaps the plot meanders and focuses on the wrong elements during its middle scenes but it’s an ending I like to describe as honest.  What I mean by this is that the somewhat surprising finale is well supported by that which precedes it.  All the pieces of the puzzle fit.  Miguel Arteta’s direction is in most cases top-notch although there were a few indoor scenes that looked off with their “grainy” feel.  What I will single out was the immaculate dinginess of the Retail Rodeo – I loved constantly looking in the background at all the little odds and ends of the store.

Like many small-budget productions, The Good Girl premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and since, the word has been largely positive.  Honoured at the Independent Spirit Awards for best screenplay (beating out such films as Lovely & Amazing and Roger Dodger), it’s a offbeat delight for those who like their movies to focus on plot development rather than action or special effects.  Hmmm, no wonder I liked it.