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Winsor McCay -- The Master Edition

A new DVD offers an opportunity to see films by a master of animation —Andrea Birgers (DVD review...)

Gertie the Dinosaur, born of Winsor McCay

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The problem with The Good Girl is quite simple: the tag line leads viewers to believe that Justine’s (Jennifer Aniston) “last best chance” is having an affair with a barely legal, deranged lunatic. If that’s your last best chance, you might as well just shoot yourself now.

Trapped in Hee-Haw Town

Jake Gyllenhall is excellent in October SkyIn The Good Girl, Aniston takes a step away from Friends’ ever-fashionable Rachel Green by playing Justine, a small town country girl who’s sick of her small town ways. Trapped every day in the local Retail Rodeo, Justine spends every night watching her painter husband (John C. Reilly) plop his fat ass on the couch and smoke pot with his best friend Bubba (Tim Blake Nelson) rather than fix the bedroom TV that’s been broken since God knows when.

However, Justine’s life becomes more complete — and much more complicated — when a new employee (Bubble Boy’s Jake Gyllenhaal) wins her heart with his soulful poetry and mysterious ways. Before she knows it, her simple, boring life collides with a life of emotional and sexual awakening that quickly spins out of control. Now, Justine must choose between the stable life she wanted so desperately to flee from and a life of blackmail, lies and larceny — between the husband she once loved so dearly and the father of her unborn baby.

Too Much of a Good Thing

While most critics are raving about Aniston’s performance as the small town hick who would do anything to leave her life except get in her car and drive away from it, the true performance of note comes from Gyllenhaal. He plays the mysterious (yet obviously psychotic) co-worker so convincingly that it’s hard to tell whether he should get an Oscar for it or be medicated.

Gyllenhaal plays Holden, the lonely cashier who spends more time with his nose in a book than actually interacting with the customers. His performance clearly screams “lunatic” from the first second he’s on-screen, making it impossible for viewers to buy into his so-called sexual magnetism that Justine’s willing to throw her whole life away for. Granted Holden is many things (scary and terrifying quickly pops into my head) and clearly he has the potential to grow up and become a success at something (like being a psychopath who takes a nearby mall hostage and murders everyone in it), but “the other man” Holden is definitely not. In fact, every time Gyllenhaal lays a hand on Aniston viewers will want to turn their heads away in disgust since his actions are so disturbing it’s almost like watching a child molester in action.

Gyllenhaal’s performance is so frightening that it also takes away from the impact of Aniston’s critically praised performance because viewers won’t be able to buy into her story at all. After all, her husband may be a lazy pothead, but at least she doesn’t have to fear for her life if she tells him she’s not in the mood for a quickie after lunch. In fact, John C. Reilly’s oblivious husband is the only character in the entire film viewers will feel anything towards — anything, that is, other than hatred, fear or embarrassment.

Passing the Blame...

Maybe it’s wrong to single out Gyllenhaal’s performance as the movie’s main fault. After all, even if viewers do hate his character, at least he gets the audience to feel strongly about him — which is more than most actors can accomplish these days. Maybe the problem with The Good Girl is, as I mentioned earlier, how it’s been promoted. Despite what the posters may lead you to believe, The Good Girl is far from being this year’s must-see romance.

Or maybe the fault lies within Mike White’s script, which seems to be gung-ho on making Aniston’s character look like a stupid bitch. Or maybe the fault lies with the direction the film took and the fact Miguel Arteta didn’t ask Gyllenhaal to tone down his performance and let Aniston carry the film. Whatever the reason, there’s something horribly wrong with The Good Girl that causes audiences not to give a damn one way or the other about its lead.

Main characters aside, the movie does have its redeeming moments with the casting of Big Trouble’s Zooey Deschanel and Fargo’s John Carroll Lynch, both of whom supply the much needed laughter in the otherwise dark and depressing script. Although their screen time is limited, both manage to steal the film whenever on-screen and will leave viewers eagerly awaiting their next scene, no matter how brief it may be.

Not “Must See” Material

When all is said and done, The Good Girl was meant to be the film that would catapult Aniston into movie stardom and guarantee her a career once the curtain closes on Friends. But just like Picture Perfect, ‘Til There Was You and The Object of My Affection, The Good Girl proves that although Aniston can act, viewers will never feel comfortable seeing her as anyone besides Rachel Green. And unlike Office Space, Leprechaun or Rock Star, The Good Girl will never have a cult-like following on video because it’s not entertaining. Depressing, yes. Disturbing, yes. Fun for a rainy Friday night? Never.

At least Aniston will always be Thursday night’s good girl. And she’ll always be a millionaire thanks to syndication rights. And she has two People’s Choice Awards. And she’s married to Brad Pitt. I’m not exactly feeling sorry for her troubled movie career. Gyllenhaal the “Bubble Boy” on the other hand.... well, he’ll always have October Sky.