Miguel Arteta’s ‘The Good Girl’ (2002)

For most people routine is comforting. We rely on our lives being predictable and change is something that usually causes anxiety and turmoil. But Miguel Arteta’s film The Good Girl offers an interesting portrayal of the life of a woman for whom routine has become smothering.

The film’s assets:

  1. The script. Mike White’s script is probably the film’s strongest asset. It is perceptive and funny; the dialogue is witty and the characters are quirky, without being too over-the-top, and multi-dimensional.

    Cheryl: 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.

    All of these characters are trying to escape in some way: Corny through religion, Gwen through her diet, Cheryl through her random bursts of profanity and insults, Bubba through marijuana and Justine, Phil through pot as well. Justine is trying to escape through having a child, but Phil’s sterility has prevented her. Holden and Justine try to escape the banality of their lives through their affair; however, Justine finds her relationship with Holden another trap. That relationship does give her the baby that finally allows her some semblance of an escape.

  2. Jennifer Aniston’s performance. Aniston’s portrayal of Justine breaks her from her Friends image. Her low-key performance effectively conveys Justine’s feelings of loneliness and entrapment. John C. Reilly and Jake Gyllenhaal’s performances also deserve a mention.

The film’s offenses:

  1. Pacing. I love the script, but the film does tend to lag at times. The bit with Bubba and Justine could have been cut from the film without damaging the overall story. But it does have the interesting effect of making Justine more sympathetic to the audience rather than less likable. The narration….eh. I think that perhaps it detracts rather than adds to the films at times. I like bits of the narration very much, but I think that it could have been used more sparingly.

Okay, I have to address this bit from Roger Ebert’s review of this film:

Certainly the last big scene between Aniston and Reilly is an unexpected payoff, delivering an emotional punch while at the same time we can only admire Aniston’s strategy involving the father of her child. She says it’s Phil’s, and that claim cannot be disproved on the basis of Phil’s information; having confessed to cheating, she allows him to suspect someone who could not have a black-haired child; therefore, the father is the dark-haired Phil.

First of all, it should be “Justine’s strategy” not “Aniston’s”. And, more importantly, his genetic theory is pretty wrong. Justine has dark hair so even though she points the finger at Corny, who has blond hair, as the person with whom she had been unfaithful they could have still produced a dark-haired child together because blond hair is a recessive trait.