The Good Girl
In too many small-town dramas, characters lament the cruel fate that dumped them in the middle of nowhere when a hundred bucks, a bus ticket, and the classifieds section seem like the only elements needed to end their misery. The best thing about The Good Girl is the way it avoids that cliché, illustrating how too little money, too many eyes, and too much pity can make the paths between home, work, Bible study, and the cut-rate motel as strong a deterrent as Hadrian's Wall. In Girl, Jennifer Aniston lives inside just such a barrier, a small Texas town that looks like a version of King Of The Hill's Arlen gone terribly wrong. Married to a housepainter (John C. Reilly) whose imagination stretches only as far as stoned fantasies about new types of paint, she spends her days behind the makeup counter at the Retail Rodeo, a store that makes Kmart look pretentious. Wearing a name-tag marked "Holden" and clutching a copy of Catcher In The Rye, new coworker Jake Gyllenhaal sparks her interest, but it takes only a short time for their relationship to reveal its limitationssome caused by guilt, some by logistics, and some by Gyllenhaal's Byron-sized sense of romantic desperation. Written by Mike White and directed by Miguel Arteta, the team behind Chuck And Buck, The Good Girl skillfully sketches the parameters of its small-town existence but never quite fleshes out the inhabitants of those parameters. Without the well-considered humor and strongly defined characters of Chuck, only a good cast stands between Girl and some familiar stereotypes. Reilly, for instance, essentially plays an emasculated troglodyte. Tim Blake Nelson, as Reilly's best friend, plays a character named Bubba, which says virtually all that needs saying; most everyone else seems to have stepped out of the diner scene in Easy Rider. The actors find more than a few moments of humor and honesty in their interactions, but there's a pervasive hollowness, and a suggestion of mockery, that keeps getting in the way of those moments meaning much. The film gives Gyllenhaal a swollen sense of post-adolescent nihilism and then takes him to task for it, but its own observations don't cut much deeper than his unfocused distaste for his surroundings.