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Miguel Arteta
Jennifer Aniston, Jake Gyllenhaal, John C. Reilly, Tim Blake Nelson, Zooey Deschanel
Writing Credits:
Mike White

It's her last best chance... is she going to take it?
Rated R for sexuality, some language and drug content.

Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
Standard 1.33:1
English Dolby Digital 5.1
Spanish Dolby Surround
English, Spanish

Runtime: 93 min.
Price: $27.98
Release Date: 1/7/2002

• Audio Commentary with Director Miguel Arteta and Writer Mike White
• Scene-Specific Commentary with Actor Jennifer Aniston
• Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary
• Alternate Ending Montage
• Gag Reel


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Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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The Good Girl (2002)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 10, 2002)

When last we saw director Miguel Arteta and writer Mike White, they led the 2000 indie flick Chuck and Buck. To state that I disliked that film would be an understatement, as I absolutely loathed the poorly executed and forcefully quirky piece of tripe.

Since I so intensely abhorred the prior effort from Arteta and White, one may wonder why I’d bother with their follow-up release, 2002’s The Good Girl. Simple: I didn’t realize it came from the Chuck and Buck guys until I finished with it. The DVD showed up on my door, and since I’d heard some vaguely positive things about it, I decided to give it a whirl sight unseen.

While I can definitely say that The Good Girl bettered Chuck and Buck, I can’t find much else positive to relate about it. It seemed like a much more professional affair, largely due to a vastly superior cast. However, it still felt awkward and it lacked much depth or merit.

In Girl, we meet 30-year-old Texan Justine Long (Jennifer Aniston), a cashier at a local bargain store called the Retail Rodeo. There she works alongside anti-social Cheryl (Zooey Deschanel), who likes to spout subtly offensive comments over the PA, as well as perky, health-conscious Gwen (Deborah Rush) and rabidly Christian security guard Corny (Mike White). Her job seems dull, and her marriage to housepainter Phil (John C. Reilly) lacks spark. He just likes to watch TV and get stoned alongside coworker Bubba (Tim Blake Nelson).

Into Justine’s life steps a new coworker, 22-year-old cashier Holden (Jake Gyllenhaal). Really named Tom, Holden rejects that as the “slave name” given to him by his parents. An aspiring writer, Holden possesses a great deal of early adult angst, and Justine immediately becomes attracted to him. Totally unhappy with her life, Justine soon starts flirting with Holden, and before long, this leads to a full-blown affair.

Essentially, the rest of the movie revolves around this affair and its ramifications. Justine needs to choose between her dull but stable life with Phil and the more passionate but much less secure path with Holden. The latter avenue becomes more complicated when Justine starts to see how psychologically untethered Holden appears, and his obsession with her creates some potential concerns.

That synopsis probably makes The Good Girl sound heavier than it really is. In truth, one should probably view the movie as a satire to get the most from it. White’s script seems intended to parody many film conventions, from the bored wife to the idle husband who takes her for granted to the moody loner who wants to write. White subtly messes with our preconceived notions as to how these characters usually progress, which adds some depth to them; no one appears in tones of black and white.

Unfortunately, director Arteta doesn’t seem to be in on the joke. He plays most of Girl straight, which makes the film less effective. On one hand, I appreciate the fact that he doesn’t treat the story like a full-blown comedy. The script certainly includes many farcical elements, and it could easily have degenerated into a gag fest.

However, Arteta treats the scenarios in such a flat way that he drains them of much life or spark. In turn, the actors usually present their characters without much presence, which also makes the piece drag. Possibly my biggest complaint about Chuck and Buck stemmed from the absurdly amateurish acting; whatever positive points White’s script possessed got undercut with the subpar performances.

By contrast, Girl presents a quite positive cast. As a fan of Friends, I’ve always viewed Aniston as a very talented performer, and with costars like Reilly, Gyllenhaal, Deschanel and the others, she receives more than ample support. So why did I feel so little interest in their work and their characters? Again, I think the problem resided with Arteta’s lackluster direction, as he left the actors without much room to breathe.

Of the main crew, Gyllenhaal probably does best with his role, as he seems to see the satirical intent better than the others. In flicks like Donnie Darko, he’s played young guys who don’t fit in with society, but he never made them quite so unpleasant. We can see what attracts Justine to him, but Gyllenhaal also adds a layer of creepy moodiness that prevents Holden from becoming just another misunderstood loner. He takes the part over the top at times, which makes sense within the satirical world this film should inhabit.

Reilly also fleshes out Phil fairly nicely. That character probably possesses the greatest potential to become flat and uninspired, but Reilly manages to make Phil something more than just a pot-smoking lout. Granted, he remains a pot-smoking lout, but Reilly adds a certain level of sympathy to the character that allows Phil to turn into a more realistic personality.

From what I’ve read, Aniston received a lot of positive notices about her work here, but honestly, I don’t think she does much with the part. Perhaps part of this stems from her wholly unconvincing Texas accent, and maybe some of it comes from the fact I already admired her talent. I got the feeling a lot of the praise she earned came from folks who didn’t think much of her prior work and they felt surprised that she showed glimmers of ability.

For me, on the other hand, I think she fails to live up to her usual skills. As Justine, Aniston seems like an actress trying too hard to distance herself from her defining character. The moody, morose and unfashionable Justine resides a long way from Friends’ Rachel, and Aniston can’t quite make the leap from one role to the other. She doesn’t seem bad as Justine, but she also doesn’t do much with the part to make it come to life.

It doesn’t help that The Good Girl presents Justine as a rather uninteresting character. Actually, she offers easily the least compelling of all the different parts, and I never was quite able to figure out why I should feel interested in her. On one hand, Girl seems to want to do things differently as it focuses on the drab and ordinary qualities of life. But on the other, it tosses in far too many dramatic plot twists and turns to really present something realistic. Girl wants to have its ironic cake and eat it too, but it doesn’t succeed either as satire or drama. Well, at least I didn’t actively hate it, which makes it an improvement over Chuck and Buck.

The DVD Grades: Picture B- / Audio B- / Bonus C

The Good Girl appears in both an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 and in a fullscreen version on this double-sided, single-layered DVD; the widescreen image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Only the letterboxed picture was reviewed for this article. An inconsistent image, Girl usually looked very good, but a smattering of issues lowered my overall grade to a “B-“.

A low-budget flick, Girl occasionally displayed a flat “indie” appearance. Sharpness generally seemed fine, as the majority of the movie seemed reasonably crisp and concise. Certain scenes came across as somewhat soft and indistinct, but most of them were acceptably well defined and accurate. Jagged edges and moiré effects created no concerns, but I noticed some minor edge enhancement at times. In regard to print flaws, the movie displayed light grain at times, and I also detected sporadic examples of grit and a few marks.

That general low-budget drabness moderately affected the film’s hues. For the most part, the colors came across as natural and distinct, but they also could appear somewhat flat and inert at times. Skin tones came across as slightly muddy as well. Black levels seemed acceptably deep and dense, but shadow detail was a bit weak at times. Low-light sequences such as those in Holden’s bedroom or when characters watched TV looked moderately thick and impenetrable. I waffled between giving The Good Girl a “B-“ or a “C+” for picture and went with the former because it did present a pretty solid picture for the most part. However, it offered more concerns than I’d anticipate for a recent movie, so don’t expect visual fireworks here.

Given the flick’s low budget and character-driven scope, I figured its Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack would seem modest, and I assumed correctly. The mix strongly emphasized the forward channels. In that domain, the score presented reasonably positive stereo imaging, and effects blended together accurately and smoothly. We rarely heart much more than general ambience, so the audio didn’t exactly tax the speakers. As for the surrounds, they also featured little more than vague reinforcement of the front channels most of the time. A few moderately active scenes occurred, such as one that featured a rainstorm, but overall, the rear speakers maintained a reserved presence.

Audio quality seemed acceptable. Some speech came across as a little stiff, but the majority of the lines sounded natural and warm, and I noticed no issues related to intelligibility or edginess. Music also could appear a little flat, but the score sounded clean and reasonably vibrant most of the time. As I noted, effects played a small role in the movie. They remained accurate and clear, as they showed no distortion and offered moderate bass on the very few occasions when low-end became a factor. Ultimately, I couldn’t fault the audio of The Good Girl for its lack of ambition, since it’d sound ridiculous to saddle this sort of flick with a more active mix. However, I also couldn’t give it credit for effectiveness that it lacked, so I felt it merited a “B-“ for its soundtrack.

Despite its low profile, The Good Girl includes a fairly extensive roster of supplements. We start with an audio commentary with director Miguel Arteta and writer Mike White. Both men sat together for this running, screen-specific piece. While not a terrible track, their discussion didn’t provide much in the way of useful material. Arteta dominated the very low-key commentary. He mainly told us about small changes made from the original script and also remarked upon at what point in the schedule he shot various scenes. White usually needed direct questioning from Arteta to chime in with his two cents, and his statements generally lacked much value. He briefly noted how he came to write the script, and he provided a few other bits about the movie and his career, but he failed to give us anything terribly useful. Quite a few empty spaces popped up, and this commentary generally seemed lackluster and without much merit.

In addition, we get a scene-specific commentary with actor Jennifer Aniston. We can access her remarks via individual topics or all together through the “Play All” option. With the latter activated, her statements fill only a small portion of the film. I got the impression that Aniston actually watched the whole flick when she recorded this track, but since she spoke so infrequently, the DVD’s producers edited down the piece into this more efficient use of time.

If that’s the case, I heartily thank them; if I’d needed to watch the whole movie to hear Aniston’s sporadic remarks, I might have tried to harm myself. As it stands, her short commentary doesn’t offer much information. Mostly she praises the movie and her costars. Occasionally Aniston tosses in some minor character insight, but those moments appear infrequently. This very short discussion adds little to one’s understanding of the film or the processes used by its lead.

The two commentaries appear on both the widescreen and fullscreen sides of The Good Girl. However, the other extras split between the two versions. On the widescreen side, we get nine deleted scenes. These can be viewed individually or as a running piece via the “Play All” option; with the latter activated, the segments last a total of eight minutes, 26 seconds. Nothing here seems terribly compelling, although we do see one moderately funny reference to Glengarry Glen Ross that probably should have made the final cut.

(As an aside, this homage to Glengarry reminds me of the concept of DVD serendipity. No, I don’t mean the DVD of Serendipity; I mean the continuing series of weird coincidences in timing I’ve noted as a reviewer. I never saw Glengarry until it hit DVD a few weeks ago. Its release timing meant that I got the reference in The Good Girl, which otherwise would have escaped me. It seems sort of eerie that the two came out so close together, since this synchronicity allowed me to get the joke. It’s almost as bizarre as the weekend when I watched Chasing Amy and Searching For Bobby Fischer back-to-back. Amy includes use of the term “patzers”, an insult Kevin Smith took directly from Fischer! This stuff happens surprisingly frequently, and it kind of spooks me.)

The deleted scenes can be viewed with or without commentary from Arteta and White. Boy, if they seemed low-key during their main track, they came across as positively somnambulant here! They chime in with remarks quite infrequently and rarely say more than “I like this”. They provide a couple of perfunctory remarks to explain why some of the scenes got the boot, but they don’t offer that information consistently. Fans probably won’t get much from this poor commentary.

After this we find an alternate ending montage. It lasts a mere 30 seconds and doesn’t seem like anything very interesting.

When we flip to the fullscreen side, we find one exclusive supplement: a gag reel. This lasts two minutes, 32 seconds, and offers one of the lamest blooper montages I’ve seen. Essentially we just watch the actors flub lines and laugh. I can’t believe the DVD’s producers force us to bother to change DVD sides just for this nearly useless segment.

While The Good Girl definitely seems superior to the prior film from its director and writer, it still doesn’t offer much to make it interesting. A muddled affair, the movie alternately aspires to offer satire and heartland drama, and it achieves neither goal. The DVD presents somewhat flat but generally positive picture quality along with subdued but accurate audio and a decent-sized roster of extras that suffers from drab execution. Neither a compelling flick nor a very well-executed DVD, I can’t find any reason to recommend The Good Girl to anyone who doesn’t already know they really like the picture, and even they might feel somewhat disappointed by this less than stellar release.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.5833 Stars Number of Votes: 36
7 3:
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