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An Old Lady, Next To You

December 16th, 2010 · 2 Comments

This month’s theme was hatched after yet another person with better taste than me recommended that I add the 2005 romantic drama Shopgirl to my queue. Looking for nine more films with similar themes, “Gloves”, “Art Gallery” and “Pilates” were all considered and rejected before I settled on “May December Romance”. So in the month of December, I’ll take a look at love separated by much more than just six months on the calendar.

The Good Girl (2002)
Directed by Miguel Arteta
Written by Mike White
Produced by Matthew Greenfield
93 minutes

Saying that The Good Girl is the best movie Jennifer Aniston has appeared in doesn’t give it nearly the credit it deserves. Pasadena native Mike White had pictured a career as a playwright in New York, but returning home, wrote two dark comedies — Chuck & Buck and The Good Girl — which helped land him a job on the writing staff of Dawson’s Creek in 1998. White showed his work to a college buddy named Miguel Arteta, who’d grown up in Puerto Rico and flunked out of the documentary program at Harvard before meeting White at Wesleyan University. A graduate of the AFI, Arteta was interested in The Good Girl, but White refused, hoping he could direct it himself. The pair tackled the controversial Chuck & Buck first and after several actresses got cold feet about playing Justine Fast, White suggested Jennifer Aniston for the part.

With Aniston on board, another Wesleyan alum named Matthew Greenfield secured roughly $7 million in financing from Myriad Pictures. To accommodate Aniston’s schedule taping Friends in Burbank, The Good Girl was filmed in Simi Valley, with the actress clocking seven-day work weeks for a chance to break out of rom-com jail. Screened for the first time at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival, The Good Girl posted strong reviews and turned a profit in limited release. With humor so dry it could keep paint from sticking, Mike White’s writing isn’t for everybody, injecting brutal honesty into the hijinks. But the quality of the material is evident by the talent of the cast assembled around Aniston, with John C. Reilly & Tim Blake Nelson shining in particular. Miguel Arteta captures the langour of Texas without making jokes out of the characters or their lives.

While not extraordinarily intelligent, 30-year-old Justine Last (Jennifer Aniston) realizes she’s wasting away as a clerk at the Retail Rodeo somewhere in Texas. Her co-workers pass the tedium of their day in a variety of ways. Gwen (Deborah Rush) keeps herself busy with work. Cheryl (Zooey Deschanel) slings subtle insults at customers over the p.a. system. Security guard Corny (Mike White) invites Justine to his Bible study group, which she declines by stating she prefers evenings to herself. Justine’s husband Phil (John C. Reilly) and his best friend Bubba (Tim Blake Nelson) are stoners who make a living as house painters. Justine is drawn to the new clerk, 22-year-old Holden Worther (Jake Gyllenhaal). Holden claims to be named after J.D. Salinger’s anti-hero and bonds with Justine over their shared hatred of the world.

Justine spurns Holden’s advances by reminding him that she’s married. He responds by quitting Retail Rodeo and writing Justine a lovesick note imploring her to meet him after work. When Gwen gets ill eating a batch of bad blackberries, Justine has to choose between accompanying her friend to the emergency room or meeting Holden at his designated rendezvous outside Chuck E. Cheese. Their intense affair is put on ice when Justine suspects that Bubba is onto them. Holden does not react well to the hiatus. Justine attempts to strengthen her marriage by taking Phil to Bible study, but changes her mind when she spots the motel manager among the saved. While Holden continues to fall apart and Bubba blackmails Justine with sex, the good girl clings to the hope that the baby she’s carrying will give her life some purpose.

Rotten Tomatoes “Tomatometer” average among 11,043 users: 54% for The Good Girl

Metacritic “Metascore” average among leading critics: 71 for The Good Girl

What do you say?

Tags: Ambiguous ending · Bathtub scene · Black comedy · Interrogation · Midlife crisis · Psychoanalysis · Unconventional romance

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Raquelle // Dec 16, 2010 at 7:25 am

    Oh man. I have to watch this movie again. I was thinking about it the other day but now reading your post has made me want to revisit it. I really enjoy films in which the plot centers around a workplace. I even love bad films like Employee of the Month because I just enjoy watching that workplace dynamic between the characters.

    Thanks for this!

  • 2 Joe Valdez // Dec 18, 2010 at 3:37 pm

    Raquelle: I catch myself watching reruns of NCIS sometimes just to see Abby in her element, unlocking the secrets of forensics while on the clock. Nothing of great import is going down at the Retail Rodeo, but I hope you enjoy The Good Girl the second time around. Thanks for commenting!

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