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Fox Home Entertainment presents
The Good Girl (2002)

Cheryl: Sit right down here, ma'am. We're going to make you pretty. Now how do you like your hair?
Big Haired Woman: What? Are you going to do my hair?
Cheryl: No, I just need to know if that's your usual way of wearing it, all big and high. If it is, I'll just put more makeup on your chin to offset it. You're going to want to take a whole bottle of this home with you. It's got quite a lot of ingredients in it, so you're getting a good deal. It's got ginkgo extract in it. Do you know what that is?
Big Haired Woman No.
Cheryl: It's extract of the ginkgo, and it makes your skin real slick so that any liquid will roll right off you, be it water, or lemon juice, or urine. I'll put it in a bag for you.

- Zooey Deschanel, Alice Amter

Review By: Joel Cunningham  
Published: January 05, 2003

Stars: Jennifer Aniston, Jake Gyllenhall
Other Stars: John C. Reilly, Tim Blake Nelson, Mike White, John Carroll Lynch, Deborah Rush, Zooey Deschanel, Alice Amter
Director: Miguel Arteta

MPAA Rating: R for sexuality, some language, and drug content
Run Time: 01h:33m:00s
Release Date: January 07, 2003
UPC: 024543060222
Genre: black comedy


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A- B+B-B+ B-

DVD Review

When you've got a name like Justine Last, there's little you can do but work to live up (or down) to its bleak poeticism. In The Good Girl, she certainly seems to be doing just that. Jennifer Aniston plays Justine, the total embodiment of the small town cliché—she married young, her high school sweetheart, never went to college, never even made it out of town. She works the makeup counter at the Retail Rodeo, a dehumanizing chain outlet that saps all individuality and creativity from its employees.

She feels equally constrained by her marriage to Phil (John C. Reilly), a nice guy who loves her, even if he doesn't always really notice her. Then she meets Holden (Jake Gyllenhaal), a troubled teenager who has named himself after the protagonist in Catcher in the Rye and fancies himself a misunderstood genius (he pens multiple variations of the same bleak story, stories remarkably similar to his own idea of his torturous existence). He is fascinated with her, and that fascination feeds her hunger for a real spark and vitality in her life; he feels that she is the only person who has ever really "gotten" him. They begin a messy, ill-advised affair, which quickly becomes complicated when Bubba (Tim Blake Nelson), Phil's tactless friend, becomes involved.

Jennifer Aniston is endearing and true as Justine Last; her performance redeems the troubled, rather unsympathetic character. The highest praise I can give her is that less than two minutes after the film began, Rachel Green, the character I've watched Aniston play for ten years on Friends, simply disappeared. She never falls back on Rachel's familiar gimmicks (fluttering hands and big emotion) and is able to embody Justine's worn out desperation. You wouldn't think an actress as pretty as Aniston, not to mention one with as much natural charisma, could pull off plain quite so well. John C. Reilly is, as, ever, the affable everyman, and Jake Gyllenhaal is suitably lethargic and morose (though I still can't get over the fact that his is a virtual double of Tobey Maguire in both appearance and mannerism).

I've greatly enjoyed past work from screenwriter Mike White, but his characters rarely feel as genuine as Justine, Holden, and Phil. In Orange County and Chuck & Buck in particular, his creations are unhinged or bizarre, if not downright grotesque. Some of that excess lingers in the supporting roles. White himself plays a religious co-worker at the Retail Rodeo, in an obvious parody of the evangelical, holier-than-thou smugness that can seep into those who become more concerned with others' faith than their own. In fact, most of the Retail Rodeo scenes are relied on for comic relief; if the chain store is an exaggeration of the Wal-Mart sameness that is, at present, destroying small town America, then the side characters are an exaggeration of the most cynical ideation of those who work and shop there. This cynicism could be read as condescension, but as an avid Wal-Mart shopper with no love for the mega-corp, I can easily say that White, sadly, isn't that far off. The world is full of people trapped and depressed by menial jobs, and I don't think White is placing himself on a pedestal in pointing out the fact that most of them probably hate their employers almost as much as they hate the idiot customers.

Director Miguel Arteta, who directed White's script for the aforementioned Chuck & Buck, seems to understand perfectly the difficult shifts of White's screenplay—when White delves into parody, Arteta counterbalances with stark naturalism. His metered pacing, coupled with cinematographer Enrique Chediak's barren, color-drained visuals, keeps White in check, and keeps the film from being too farcical. Even when, through crazy circumstance, the film turns into a heist thriller, Arteta never falters and the ending is bittersweet when it easily could have been melodramatic.

The Good Girl is an oddball of a film. There were moments when I laughed harder than I have at any straight comedy this year, but there were more ones in which I felt all too clearly the crushing weight of the characters' broken dreams. It's a nice thought that such a troubling, downhearted black comedy, one that so clearly bears the artistic stamp of its creators, is still a possibility amidst the glut of tired Hollywood formula pictures that masquerade as entertainment. And kudos to Jennifer Aniston for breaking the string of bad movies featuring Friends cast members.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B+

 

Image Transfer

 OneTwo
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyesno
Anamorphicyesno


Image Transfer Review: Many will likely rent The Good Girl for Jennifer Aniston, with little awareness of the film's low budget origins, and they'll likely label this a "bad" transfer. It certainly exhibits what many home theater enthusiasts have come to regard as problems—a washed-out color palette, a lot of visible grain, and lessened detail during night scenes. However, all of these elements were certainly present when I saw the film in the theater, and any complaints in that regard should go to the director and cinematographer.

That's not to say there aren't problems with the compression work, though. I noticed occasional artifacting in complex patterns; aliasing is also present at times. Edge halos are present but not intrusive. Colors are solid (but, as I said, rather dull), showing no blooming or bleeding. Fox has included both a 1.85:1 and a full-frame transfer on opposite sides of a DVD-10; dropping the open matte version might have allowed more room for the preferred widescreen.

Image Transfer Grade: B-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Spanishyes
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: I wasn't expecting much from this soundtrack, considering the low-budget origins of the film, not to mention the fact that it's a dialogue-based drama. But the DD 5.1 English mix included here is actually quite impressive, considering. Dialogue is anchored in the center channel, and always sounds clear. You'll notice that it is presented with some ambient effects at times (echo when characters speak in a bathroom, wind when they do so outside), but the natural soundscape is entirely appropriate for the dull, real world feel of the film. Surrounds also are more active than you'd think, as they often add atmosphere, such as blowing wind or pouring rain. The score is spread nicely across the mains, and there's some good support for the pop songs on the track as well.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+

 

Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
9 Deleted Scenes
1 Alternate Endings
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by writer Mike White and Director Miguel Arteta; actress Jennifer Aniston on select scenes
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
2-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Gag Reel
Extras Review: Though no traditional making-of information is included, the DVD of The Good Girl includes some nice supplements. It seems these days, even low budget independent films are blessed with a wealth of bonus features. First up is a traditional commentary with director Miguel Arteta and writer Mike White. The two aren't what I'd call engaging speakers (both are rather monotone—White was similarly low-key on the Orange Country track), but they do share some worthwhile information about their second collaboration. They share production anecdotes and complimentary missives about the cast, but they don't skimp on discussion of thematic issues, making for a well rounded track overall. Provided you don't nod off halfway through.

Jennifer Aniston provides a track as well, but only on nine select scenes, and even then, her comments are fairly brief. It is nice to hear her genuine enthusiasm for the project (her energy more than makes up for the lack of punch on the prior track, and it's too bad she couldn't have sat in on that one) as she discusses finding the script and campaigning for the part. She's equally laudatory when speaking about her fellow cast, but she manages to offer substantive stories and anecdotes rather than simply empty praise.

Nine deleted scenes, with a total running time of around eight minutes, include optional commentary from the writer and director. Some of the scenes where obviously cut for a reason, whether the performances were off or they simply reiterated themes and ideas from other scenes, but I did quite like a few of the excised character moments between Aniston and Jake Gyllenhall and a funny bit with Tim Blake Nelson. There's also an alternate ending, but it runs only 30 seconds, offering a slightly different final monologue from Aniston.

All of the supplements described above are included on the widescreen side of the disc; flip it over for a dull two-minute gag reel. I guarantee the only laughs will be onscreen; I love gag reels, but I can't recall cracking a smile.

Extras Grade: B-

 

Final Comments

The Good Girl is one of the most interesting films of 2002, if not one of the best. Mike White's script lurches from biting sarcasm to smirking satire to gloomy introspection, but nevertheless remains thoughtful and original. His wit is in fine form and his ear for dialogue as reliable as ever. Director Miguel Arteta ably handles the shifts in tone; his melancholy visuals feel natural and genuine. And of course, there's Jennifer Aniston—finally given a chance to step out from behind her iconic sit-com role, she proves herself an actress worthy of material sans laugh track.

 


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