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"The Good Girl" Movie Review

Jennifer Aniston and Jake Gyllenhaal in "The Good Girl."
©2002 Fox Searchlight - All Rights Reserved.

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There are times you should follow your heart, and other there are times you should run as fast as you can away from whatever that fickle organ is suggesting. In "The Good Girl," director Miguel Arteta and writer Mike White ("Chuck & Buck") allow their characters to appear with all their warts exposed, following their traitorous hearts and acting out of passion and with little care for the consequences. The film is a satisfying blend of comedy and tragedy, with each character developed to the point audiences can feel empathy toward even the film's darkest, most twisted character.

Jennifer Aniston stars as Justine, a sales clerk at the Retail Rodeo who longs to escape from her tedious, colorless life. Jake Gyllenhaal co-stars as Holden, a passionate co-worker of Justine's who writes depressing stories and yearns for any life other than his own. Justine finds a soul mate in Holden and together the two begin an affair that will rock both of their worlds and destroy almost everything they hold precious. What begins as a sexually charged affair dissolves into a chaotic mess involving love and blackmail.

"The Good Girl" is disturbing, sad, and yet so connected to reality that it leaves you aching for the characters. You want to take them by the hand and lead them out of their self-imposed prison-like existence and into the fresh air and sunlight - anything to save them from themselves. So much of what Aniston's Justine and Gyllenhaal's Holden put themselves through would have been avoided if they'd just filled a tank with gas and escaped from their bleak lives - either together, in which case they'd simply delay but not avoid the inevitable; or separately, their best chance at happiness and fulfillment.

Jennifer Aniston may or may not have been striving for indie credibility by taking on the role of Justine, the sales clerk. Nonetheless, she does make all the right moves in the film, going without much makeup and looking nothing like the glamorous actress viewers have come to expect from the "Friends" star. Her comedic timing mixed with her first really successful effort at drama on film should make naysayers give her a better look. With "The Good Girl," Aniston proves there's more to her than well coifed hair and a marriage to one of Hollywood's hottest hunks.

Turning in another fine performance is Jake Gyllenhaal, an actor who seems to be successfully avoiding the typical 'teen' films and going for the edgier, grittier roles in lesser known films ("October Sky," "Donnie Darko" and "Lovely & Amazing"). Recently named as one of Entertainment Weekly's "It" celebrities, Gyllenhaal brings a darker, disturbed melancholy flavor to his character Holden Worther. Immersing himself in characters outside of the mainstream, Gyllenhaal is creating a niche for himself as the go-to guy for independent filmmakers looking for a young male actor with depth.

John C. Reilly plays Jennifer Aniston's husband, a house painter and pot-smoker who continuously frustrates and annoys his disappointed wife. Tim Blake Nelson co-stars as John C. Reilly's best friend and fellow house painter/pot-smoker. Together the two have an easiness about them that sells the 'best friend' storyline so integral to "The Good Girl's" plot. Zooey Deschanel is impressive as the source of the film's comic relief, displaying a certain charm even while applying the most outrageous makeup to an elder customer.

"The Good Girl" is an independent feature in every sense of the word. What will sell this film to a larger audience than the standard amount of indie filmgoers will be Jennifer Aniston's name on the marquee. If you go to the film expecting to see "Friend's" Rachel, you'll be short-changing Aniston and the film. "The Good Girl" explores depression, dissatisfaction, infidelity and relationships without tacking on a standard Hollywood ending. Thumbs up for a film that swims against the tide.

Overall Grade: B

"The Good Girl" is rated R for sexuality, some language, and drug content.

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