“The Good Girl” plays off that nagging feeling we all have about the direction our lives have taken, and the regrets of opportunities missed. It examines the unfulfilled life, but refuses to offer a solution. The film’s depiction of life, including the lack of easy answers and outcomes, that it is perhaps one of the most truthful pieces of filmmaking in recent years.
Jennifer Aniston plays Justine Last, a thirty-year-old retail worker who is depressed about her life. Married to a loaf and stuck in a mind-numbing job, she mistakenly thinks that an affair with a younger man is the last chance life has to offer her. Her infidelity instead leads to trouble that makes her life seem more hopeless than it was and forces her to make some hard choices.
Deftly maneuvering around tired cliches, “The Good Girl” takes unexpected turns at every corner. The characters are so wonderfully drawn that the moviegoer winces with each misfortunate step, even wishing that some Hollywood type good turn will occur; but the filmmakers are smart enough not to give us what we think we want. Instead, they push the film in new directions treating us to new avenues. It is nice to see a film where the plot turns are not obvious and actually surprise the audience.
It is too bad that more films cannot be as true as “The Good Girl”, but the talents of the co-screenwriters, Miguel Arteta (who also directed) and Mike White, are a rarity that few possess.
Though the film has some bite to it, it never seems completely pessimistic. The filmmakers touch upon the same territory as Todd Solondz’s dreary melodramas about Middle America (“Happiness”, “Welcome to the Doll’s House”), but they refuse to show the same contempt for their characters. Each one is flawed, but not to the point that they become stereotypes. Even Justine’s husband Phil (John C. Reilly), the unintentional center of her depression, is shown to be a nice person, steering clear of the typical good-for-nothing husband that other films have used as easy prey.
Perhaps the best supporting character in the film is Phil’s best friend Bubba, played by Tim Blake Nelson. Rather than placing Bubba in the story as just a means to an end, Arteta and White create a whole character arch for him. The logic behind his motivation is a genuine treat, especially his ultimate solution to true happiness.
But it is Aniston’s performance that is a complete surprise. Without any indication of her true talents from her previous work, she truly comes into her own with this role. It is subtle and sly, without being condescending to her character. This is a big reversal from the exaggerated performances Aniston is normally known for. With proving herself with Justine Last, Aniston may be the only Friends star to make something of herself after the series ends.