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Your cheatin' heart

Jennifer Aniston goes bad in The Good Girl


We get off on the wrong foot upon meeting Justine (Jennifer Aniston), who gives The Good Girl its sarcastic title. She works at a small-town department store called Retail Rodeo and scopes out a brooding young employee (Jake Gyllenhaal) in an early scene. "What's that cashier's name?" she asks, but since his name-tag clearly says "HOLDEN" in huge letters, we can only wonder if she's dim-witted or near-sighted.
The former is more likely, since director Miguel Arteta and writer/actor Mike White maintain a condescending attitude toward middle-Americans throughout the film. In their previous film, Chuck and Buck, the writer-director team used one of the role's childish naivete to service an unsettling character study, but The Good Girl merely comes across as an underwritten, white-trash Madame Bovary.

Bored with being a "good girl" and dutiful spouse to a pot-head housepainter (John C. Reilly), Justine is drawn to young Holden's intensity. And he becomes obsessed with Justine, dripping his own blood in his love letters, and soon they're dallying at motels and in the Retail Rodeo storeroom.

Justine's infidelity has a snowball effect, leading her further into moral turpitude, even to the contemplation of murder. The right actress could knit the film together, but Aniston is entirely too composed for someone going through Justine's desperation. Delivering her lines with a watery Southern accent, Aniston simply comes across as frowny-sad instead of anguished at having to betray loved ones.

The Good Girl has no respect for its thoughtless, flailing characters, who are drawn as the kind of yokels who use Chuck E. Cheese as a local landmark and view an establishment called "Senor Tuna" as fine dining. The men in particular are ruled by their stupidest impulses (frequently the sexual ones), although amusing supporting performances are provided by Tim Blake Nelson as Reilly's sidekick and writer Mike White as a Bible-thumping security guard.

Rather than find a measure of pathos in the ignorance of its characters, The Good Girl simply looks down on them. Watching it, you wonder if the film will give them a measure of dignity or humanity, but it's like shopping at Kmart and waiting for a blue light special that never comes. . At AMC Phipps Plaza.

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