“Are you going to the grave with unknown lives in your veins?” Justine (Jennifer Aniston) asks herself. She’s only 30, but already doomed to an eternity suffocated in blush and eyeliner behind the cosmetics counter as a prisoner of a shop called Retail Rodeo. Home isn’t any better. She can’t get impregnated by her house-painting husband, Phil (John C. Reilly), and comes home to find paint on her sofa as Phil and his partner Bubba (Tim Blake Nelson) smoke pot and dream of creating paint that can change the molecular structure of houses. Justine’s drawn to retail rebel Holden (Jake Gyllenhaal), who quietly reads a copy of Catcher in the Rye. She likes how he keeps to himself and can sense that he hates the world too. But, really, she thirsts for his ability to dream about a future, and somehow knows she must tap into it to survive.
Next to director Miguel Arteta’s previous film — Chuck and Buck (which tried too hard to be unsettling) — The Good Girl is better-crafted and character-rich, as well as entertaining, with the help of writer Mike White’s (star and writer of Chuck and Buck) amusingly twisted script. The Good Girl is like visiting a peculiar island, more empty than full (Retail Rodeo always seems to have more employees than customers). It’s an insular existence sparsely populated by a few unaware misfits, with two that are very aware.
Justine’s disturbing aura is amplified because most of us identify Aniston with her long-standing, quirky but well-meaning character Rachel on NBC’s “Friends.” Aniston embodies a lovable dissatisfaction that charms in spite of her unsavory behavior, perhaps because we’ve tasted that universal “Holden Caufield” sense of isolation caused by alienation and can forgive her faults. Her attentions unleash a lovesick Frankenstein in Holden that demands all or nothing. Gyllenhaal (October Sky) is somehow both understated and relentless. His dreamy eyes behind whisps of dark hair seduce you with furious idealism and newly awakened passion, like when he tells Justine over a brown-bag lunch, “I wanna knock your head open and see what’s inside.”
Justine sees Holden as a portal to a better life. His presence unleashes another girl, living just below the surface of the first, holding on, at all costs, to her virtuous veneer, which redirects her future and redefines what it means to be “good.”
Opens exclusively at the Main Art Theatre (118 N. Main, Royal Oak). Call 248-542-0180.
Anita Schmaltz writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.