Good Girl

 Gen-X-Review-Good-Girl-2002Have you ever wondered about the pretty, sad girls you sometimes pass on your way to the candy isle? The ones who seem to be looking into a different world where at least some of their dreams have come true?

Everyone has stories and sometimes these personal narratives are less about what actually happened than what we let slip through our hands.

The Good Girl stars Jennifer Aniston as Justine, as 30-year-old woman trapped in a small Texas city working as a make-up girl in a department store. She’s married to a stoner painter named Phil (John C. Reilly), lives in a house in constant disrepair, and secretly pines away for, well, anything: Love, oblivion, freedom, death... Anything that transports her from her dreary, lower-middle-class life.

Justine and Phil are stuck in the middle of nowhere. Theirs is a hollow world where people live only out of habit, a world of zombies going through the motions. Applying make-up to the faceless faces of her customers, Justine is alone with her thoughts. Phil can’t go one night without getting baked and relives the same unsatisfying couch conference with his buddy Bubba (Tim Blake Nelson) over and over again.

“Everything turns to sh*#,” Justine says one night when Phil and Bubba ruin her living room couch. And she’s right. Her life is in decline at 30 and the best she can hope for is an occasional episode of Oprah to cheer her up.

Until Holden (Jake Gyllenhaal) steps through the automatic doors of the Retail Rodeo Justine works at.

Eight years Justine’s junior, Holden is out of place among the decay of the department store. He is named after Holden Caulfield from Salinger's Catcher in the Rye and considers himself a tortured writer. He represents freedom to Justine and the two begin making eyes at one another from over the candy counter and Slim Jim display.

The Good Girl is about the desperate little things we do for happiness, the silly ways we try to deceive ourselves, and the hard choices we make that keep us trapped forever.

Holden is romantic and disturbed, and as the low-rent love affair progresses Justine wonders if he’s just a boy or a demon. Love is strange sometimes and Justine and Holden’s relationship is exciting, crazy, impulsive and dangerous. It colors the drab city they live in, changing the complexion of the store room where they meet and making the everyday dreary landscape seem somehow magical.

But Justine doesn’t completely believe in its reality. Is she simply a white trash Madam Bovary compelled by the melodrama of the situation? Is her relationship with Holden a viable alternative to the life that she and Phil have made or just an interesting fiction? Everyone wants to escape their lives, but Justine doesn’t want to deceive herself like Phil has, by creating smoke dreams from pot, or follow Holden’s example and create an imaginary persona to hide behind.

Men are idiots, it’s true, and Justine gets stronger as she learns how to negotiate their desires. Every choice might be tragic, but it’s better to face your problems than to ignore or reimagine them. If Justine doesn’t have the power to change her life, can she learn how to reimagine her own reality and make it something of her own creation?

The cast of characters feels very real, as though their faces have been peeled off of a late-night visit to Denny’s. Shuffling by on her way to the hardware isle, Aniston looks every bit of the part of Justine, proving how lovely ordinary people can be when in love. Look up from your morning paper at your favorite breakfast joint or stare into the eyes of that person selling you your dish detergent, cat litter or McMeal and you just might see a Justine -- if you’re lucky.

The Good Girl is evocative and beautiful, full of the kind of ordinary poetry that has the power to change our lives - if we dare to admit that the power is ours.


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