The Good Girl (2002) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

The Good Girl goes way beyond what you would normally expect from a comedy/drama in that the comedy is more than satirical, almost absurdist, and the drama is more than dramatic, all the way to tragic. I guess it's a tragifarce. In tone, it might be compared to American Beauty, although that's only an approximation.

Jennifer Aniston plays a small-town Texas girl in a dead-end life. She works as a retail clerk in a store like K-Mart, and when she comes home from day after identical endless working day, she faces a life of nothingness at home. She's not very smart, or interesting, or ambitious. She's married, but her husband is a dull slob who spends every night watching TV and smoking dope on the coach with his buddy.

Like most of us, she dreamt that her life would amount to more than this, so she tries to add some excitement with an affair. One of her co-workers is an idealistic college-age boy who is obsessed with Catcher in the Rye, and Aniston is drawn to him, perhaps because through him she can reach something inside of her that she has forgotten. The plot thickens when her husband's couch buddy spies her with the young boyfriend, and uses this info to blackmail sex from her. The plot really gets complicated when she turns up pregnant despite her husband's low sperm count. Just who the hell is the father?

In the process of resolving all these plot threads, the script often takes some sad, even tragic directions, although it ends with a note of restrained hopefulness.

What makes the film more than a soap opera is the absurdist comedy. The "attention shoppers" announcements at the store, for example, are laced with profanities and are completely insulting to both the products and the customers. The large store never seems to have more than one or two customers, and these people seem not to notice the bizarre announcements or the even more outlandish behavior of some of the clerks. One woman in make-up, for example, offers to do an old lady's face in early Ringling Brothers, because the clown appearance is all the rage in Europe. She calls it "Cirque du Face". The old woman doesn't seem to think she is kidding.

The screenwriter is the same man who did Orange County, and he infuses situations with the same sardonic wit that he brought to the Orange County high school English class. Both films use snide, cynical, condescending humor quite effectively to present serious thoughts and emotionally charged concepts. I find this to be a very effective technique, because the casual humor magnifies the emotional impact of the tragic situations in the same way that Hemingway's simple descriptive sentences carry powerful emotions better than the long, flowery passages preferred by earlier writers.


Jennifer Aniston shows her breasts in a VERY dark sex scene.

Tim Blake Nelson does full frontal and rear nudity in the sunlight.

Aniston turned out to be a remarkably good casting choice. There has always been something about her that is lost, blank, questioning, dazed, and almost pathetic, even when she plays her most confident roles. Those qualities are always there, and she draws on them when she needs vulnerability, but for the most part, she keeps that part of her personality hidden deep inside when she creates her characters. This time she lets it all come up to the surface, allowing her to draw the audience effectively into her plight. She seems so helpless and so desperate for answers that there are times when you just want to embrace her like your own daughter and tell her that life needn't be bad as it seems. If you didn't know she was Jennifer Aniston, TV icon and half of the ultimate superstar couple, you would probably feel that they wrote the part just for her, or found some small-town girl who matched the character perfectly. She found that character somewhere inside of her, and she wore it like a custom-tailored suit.

Because Aniston infuses the character with reality, it isn't really possible to feel like you should condemn her for having her affair with an immature kid, even though it turned out disastrously. As we watch the events transpire, the affair seems inevitable and, because we identify with that character, it seems like her only refuge from despair.

Tuna's thoughts in yellow:

While I was watching the film, one word kept coming to mind -- pathetic. The characters were all pathetic, the town was pathetic, and most of the events were pathetic. I knew, of course, that is was a well reviewed and popular film, which reminded me of the last hugely popular film that I just didn't get, American Beauty. I will agree that Aniston played her character well, but it was a character I just didn't like.

DVD info from Amazon.

  • widescreen 1.85:1.

Scoop's comment on that:

Even though I liked the film, I agree with what Tuna said. It was too pathetic in many ways, and Gyllenhaal's whiny character is even more irritating than Aniston's. I would have found it hard to take without the humor, and it did not do that well at the box office, despite Aniston's popularity.

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: three stars. Ebert 3.5/4, Berardinelli 3/4.

The People Vote ...

  • with their dollars: it grossed $13 million in the USA


IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, Scoop says, "C+. Quite a good movie, but not for everyone."  Tuna says, "The proper score is C+, well made, but not for everyone, especially me."

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