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Delightfully disturbing

Jennifer Aniston's glum store clerk is surrounded by kooky characters in The Good Girl.

By PHILIP BOOTH, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published August 22, 2002


Jennifer Aniston's glum store clerk is surrounded by kooky characters in The Good Girl.

Jennifer Aniston replaces the perky if insecure nice-girl persona of her Rachel character on TV's Friends with a glum, downbeat, sexually frustrated store clerk in The Good Girl.

Aniston's work in this quirky comic drama, far more affecting and personal than her big-screen turns in lackluster movies such as last year's Rock Star, hints that there may indeed be life after network television for Aniston.

Mike White's sharp script has Aniston, as bored cashier Justine Last, surrounded by an array of offbeat small-town characters. At home, she contends with her dimwitted but kind husband Phil (busy character actor John C. Reilly, excellent as always), a house painter who spends his off hours getting high with sleazy buddy Bubba (Tim Blake Nelson, of Minority Report and O Brother, Where Art Thou?).

At the Retail Rodeo, Justine's longtime employer, she commiserates with too-happy co-worker Gwen (Deborah Rush), fends off the Bible-study invitations of a nosy security guard (screenwriter White) and halfheartedly tries to please her boss, Jack (John Lynch).

For occasional, scene-stealing amusement, there's the hilariously rude abuse of customers by Cheryl (Zooey Deschanel, of Big Trouble and Almost Famous).

Still, Justine is bored, and increasingly tortured by the realization that, at 30, she may be stuck with a husband she could do without, and a life she doesn't want. "I'm in a funk," she tells new store hire Holden (rising star Jake Gyllenhaal, of Lovely and Amazing). The 22-year-old college dropout borrowed his name from the protagonist of Catcher in the Rye, reads the novel on his lunch breaks, and imagines that he's an artist on the brink.

Holden is more a drunken dreamer, hungry for physical and emotional intimacy, but the lonely Justine falls for him anyway. "Is this your last, best chance?" she asks herself in one of several probably dispensable voiceovers. "Are you going to take it?"

Justine's road to something like redemption holds events expected, including passionate sex and fallout from betrayal. The unexpected events include romantic obsession, sexual blackmail, a burglary at the Retail Rodeo and the deaths of two employees.

Boss Jack's announcement after one sad loss constitutes one of the film's many small pleasures. "Perhaps we can learn a lesson from this tragedy," he says over the intercom. "Don't steal and don't be disturbed." He immediately presses play on a cover of Who's Sorry Now? It's all funny and a little touching.

The Good Girl

Grade: B-plus

Director: Miguel Arteta

Cast: Jennifer Aniston, Jake Gyllenhaal, John C. Reilly, Tim Blake Nelson, Zooey Deschanel, Mike White

Screenplay: Mike White

Rating: R; sexual situations, profanity, drug use

Running time: 93 minutes

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