Sunday, February 07, 2010

Miguel Arteta retrospective - THE GOOD GIRL

The only good thing to have come out of my watching YOUTH IN REVOLT is that it prompted me to look back at the career of director Miguel Arteta. It turns out the last feature he directed was way back in 2002 - the bleak tragicomedy THE GOOD GIRL. I really enjoyed THE GOOD GIRL, not least because I was pleasantly surprised that Jennifer Aniston would have the balls to play such an equivocal and drab character. I was even more surprised at how convincing she was in the role. The film garnered a lot of critical praise, and I guess its surprising that Arteta took so long to get back into features. It's slightly less surprising that Jennifer Aniston has drifted back toward the light and cheery comedy fare that made her name.

Anyways, back to the matter under consideration. THE GOOD GIRL is the story of a supermarket check-out girl called Justine (Aniston) who is married to a good-hearted but dull pot-head (John C Reilly). For no better reason than boredom, she starts an affair with a slightly creepily obsessive college drop-out with Catcher in the Rye delusions (Jake Gyllenhaal). Things get even more complicated when her husband's even more creepy best mate (Tim Blake Nelson) attempts to blackmail her with this knowledge.

What I really love about this film is that while the situation may be contrived, and some of the characters exaggerated (particularly Zooey Deschanel's brilliantly subversive store assistant), the emotional conflicts ring true. Because, at its core, this is a film about a typical housewife who finds herself settling for less than she had hoped for, and needs to decide where the balance lies between selfishly pursuing her happiness and disappointing those that she does, on some residual level, love. And it's about a woman wondering whether settling is really as bad as she thought itm might have been. The great thing is that Justine isn't just a plain vanilla good girl. She is fundamentally decent but does not some really questionable shit and makes some terrible decisions. It's rare to see such a realistic and nuanced character study outside of European art cinema.

If you haven't seen THE GOOD GIRL, don't be put off by YOUTH IN REVOLT. This is a great little black comedy that's well-acted, intelligent and interesting to watch.

THE GOOD GIRL was released in 2002 and is available on DVD.

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