When Jennifer Anniston starts to get antsy, she, like all her "Friends" co-stars runs out and makes a movie. Why they all continue to do so is anyone’s guess, since with the exception of Mathew Perry’s mildly tolerable When Fools Rush In and Anniston’s minor role in Office Space, they’ve only succeeded in cluttering the film landscape with a forgotten array of musty movie garbage. However, with her starring role in The Good Girl Anniston may have actually broken the "Friends" curse… I’m just not certain she really had anything to do with the film’s success.
The Good Girl stars needy "Friends" sex kitten Jennifer Anniston as a middle-aged, small town Texas housewife. Pigeonholed in a dead-end job as a discount store desk clerk and stuck in what she perceives as a dead-end marriage, she only sees her world leading her towards what can only become a dead-end life. But her mundane existence only takes a turn for the worse when she strikes up an illicit affair with a young in-store stock boy who fancies himself the incarnation of Holden Caulfield.
The real question is whether or not it’s possible to “buy” such glamour hog starlet as an extremely average, boring Texas girl when every pore of Anniston’s being generally oozes something else. It’s a stretch. She does prove she still looks gorgeous even without makeup… which is mostly just depressing for the less than perfect among us. Still, she nails the redneck accent and goes out of her way to look plain. It’s enough, and it works. Being able to see her in this kind of plain-Jane role frees us up to pay attention to the point of the story, which is really much more interesting than Anniston’s hair.
Writer Mike White (who also has a supporting role in the film) has gone out of his way to inject realism and feeling into his script. His characters are all people we’ve met. His people feel the same things we’ve all felt. The same longing, the same urgency. Anniston’s character faces a crossroads, the kind we all face at some point in our lives. Because of that, it’s impossible NOT to identify with what The Good Girl is trying to tell us, even when Anniston’s character Justine diverges from the mundane and dives into the slightly bizarre.
There’s no sympathy wasted on Justine. She’s simply presented as she is. Director Miguel Arteta isn’t trying to talk us into agreeing with her, merely into watching her and hoping that in spite of herself that maybe everything will turn out all right. By the film’s end, that’s really all Justine has left to hope for too, as hopes of exploring wildly forgotten dreams are revealed as little more than folly.
Jake Gyllenhaal, who shined so brightly in last year’s Richard Kelly mind bender, Donnie Darko is the catalyst for her trials. Yet I can’t help thinking he’s somehow underused here. He’s a central character, but often comes off more as a depressed set piece for Justine to interact with. By contrast, John C. Reilly as Phillip Last, Justine’s husband, though his screen time could be more significant, literally steals the film away as a kind and sympathetic husband badly misunderstood by his clearly dissatisfied wife.
The Good Girl is not a life changing movie, nor do I think it really solidifies Anniston as a truly serious actress. What The Good Girl is, is a well written small town melodrama about the places we haven’t been. Sometimes the little things are worth the price of admission.