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doi: 10.1097/01.COT.0000289886.04885.64
Medicine in the Movies

Starring Jennifer Aniston, Jake Gyllenhaal, John C. Reilly, Zooey Deschanel, Tim Blake Nelson, and Mike White. Written by Mike White; Directed by Miguel Areta. Rated R, 93 minutes.

We've all been to the Retail Rodeo, an amalgam of the local Dollar Store and KMart wrapped into one middle-class nightmare for Justine Last, played by Jennifer Aniston as a young woman just about bored out of her gourd.

This is the picture-imperfect backdrop for our story to unfold. Having just stared at some poorly produced poster-prints in the Hilton in New Orleans, where each day's rising sun has drained the color from them, I see that some of the shots from inside the Retail Rodeo are equally drained of color and dimension.

This movie has an awful lot to do with this bland Texas excuse for a workplace and not much at all to do with “goodness,” although the lack of it is manifest with each despairing step along this dark story.

The unlikely collection of types working at the store include Gwen (Deborah Rush), a beyond middle-aged Pollyanna who contrasts with Justine's inability to find any joy in her life. Gwen exits early after ingesting some perhaps tainted blackberries or from a deadly virus.

Justine's husband, played by John C. Reilly with his familiar round and unfortunate heavy-browed face, is Phil, who paints houses when it isn't raining, smokes reefer as a full-time occupation and hangs out with his good buddy, Bubba.

Bubba, for those of you not from the south, is really baby talk for “brother.” As the movie progresses, you'll find this brother is anything but brotherly; the role reminds me very much of Steve Buscemi's character of Carl Showalter in “Fargo.”

Justine's ennui in this no-name Texas purgatory has some distorted light shown from the unlikely direction of the new cashier, Holden, played by Jake Gyllenhaal. Holden fancies himself an intellect and writer, but is really a narcissistic college dropout with an alcohol problem.

The security guard and proselytizer for Jesus is played by the talented Mike White, who also wrote this masterpiece of a movie.

Holden (his name for himself, after Salinger's Catcher in the Rye character—his real name is Tom) could have been played by Marlon Brando, but Gyllenhaal plays a slacker with no real allure much better.

Director Miguel Arteta and Mike White have churned up some steamy scenes and flavorful characters in this gothic tale of anything but goodness. Arteta is a 30-something jaundiced-eyed director who previously teamed with White to give us “Chuck and Buck,” another ineptly named film about an attempt to find something from adolescence.

“The Good Girl” is at its best with its side characters. John Carrol Lynch plays the store manager, building a sturdy reliable small-town atmosphere into his performance. He also has an entertaining way of picking fitting musical send-offs for his pre-opening store announcements to the employees of tragedies.

The most notable side show is provided by Cheryl, the smart-mouthed overly made-up Zooey Deschanel, also seen in “Almost Famous,” a standout for her witty delivery.



The odd lot of characters and situations may make for a morality play, but the writing and acting salvage this work. You can see and feel the tongue jutting into the cheek by those writing and directing, but there is a lack of moral judgment for Justine's odd choices and steady stream of not standing by her man.

The high point scene of her choice between the Rodeo and Holden is brought to presence by a glaring horn as she sits paralyzed at a telltale traffic light.

For Jennifer Aniston, “Friends'” Rachel Green is a far cry from Justine here, but we can see that Mrs. Pitt has more dimensions than the washed-out scenes and gulches of unhappiness this movie brings you to.

© 2002 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.
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