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The Good Girl (15)



Review by: Jack Foley | Rating: Two

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Audio commentary by director Miguel Arteta and writer/actor Mike White; Scene specific audio commentary by Jennifer Aniston; Alternate ending montage; Outtakes; Deleted scenes with optional commentary; Scene access; Interactive menus.

FRIENDS star, Jennifer Aniston, finally breaks away from her Rachel Green TV persona to star as a discontented 30-year-old who longs for a more fulfilling life than the one she currently leads with her husband.

The result is a quirky, offbeat black comedy in which the actress excels, turning in the type of performance that has prompted talk of an Oscar nomination, while also providing the more discerning viewer with plenty of food for thought.

Her depressed Retail Rodeo worker, Justine, is a million miles from her jovial Central Perk-dweller, coming across as a hopelessly frustrated loner who yearns for some sort of release from the banality of her hum-drum life.

Desperate to get pregnant, but equally keen to flee the boredom of her marriage with her house-painter husband, Phil (John C Reilly) and his ever-present best friend, Bubba (Tim Blake Nelson), Justine seeks refuge in the arms of a soul-mate co-worker, Holden (Jake Gyllenhaal), a creative, passionate young man who offers her the chance of escape.

But Holden brings with him his own set of problems and as their affair intensifies, so does his obsession, creating a chaotic web of blackmail, larceny and love that forces Justine to choose between doing what is right and wrong.

The Good Girl marks the second collaboration between director, Miguel Arteta, and screenwriter, Mike White (whose previous outing, Chuck and Buck, opened to universal acclaim) and once again examines the life of outsiders, or ‘people who do not have the tools they need to live a full life and to cope with life properly’.

Without exception, everyone in the film - from Justine to Holden - undergoes some form of personal crisis and a need to feel wanted and accepted within the context of the society in which they live.

And it is by drawing together such an eccentric collection of characters, who actually have plenty to say about life, that Arteta and White excel, lending the film its quirky, independent feel, while also giving it a strong grounding in reality.

Aniston declares, at the beginning of the film, that, ‘as a girl, you see the world like a giant candy store’ - but things quickly change. It is almost the flip-side of Forrest Gump’s ‘life is like a box of chocolates’ anecdote, and a far more incisive look at the pitfalls of growing up, middle-age and the confusions and anxieties it brings. A sweet ending seems unlikely from the start.

White penned the story during a ‘dark spot’ in his own life, while he was struggling to make ends meet, and claims he wanted to create a feeling that ‘everyone is imprisoned and secretly plotting their escapes’.

This sense of frustration is perfectly realised, albeit in a darkly comic way, with Arteta striking a nice balance in tone throughout.

As a result, Aniston really gets to display a different side to her make-up, expertly conveying the giddy excitement of her sexual re-awakening with the suffering and torment it later brings, which is not bad for a performance that had to be shoehorned around her Thursday and Friday commitment to Friends.

Her chemistry with Gyllenaal’s misfit Holden (a character who believes he is named after the hero in Catcher in the Rye) is also well-realised, and allows the superb Gyllenhaal to further build on a strong reputation garnered from performances in Donnie Darko and This Is Our Youth (in the West End). The ever-dependable John C Reilly is also good value as the likeable Phil, while Tim Blake Nelson and Zooey Deschanel provide meaty support.

At a time when Friends may soon come to the end of its nine-year run, it is reassuring to know that Aniston may well still be there for us on the Big Screen - so long as she continues to opt for material as good as this. The Good Girl, as its name suggests, makes for extremely enjoyable viewing.

 

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