Many times, a good Sunday is all about stumbling on a good movie playing on TV. Especially so if it is a movie you have never heard of. (Which also brings to mind the perils of depending too much on IMDB for movie recommendations. You end up missing some worth-a-watch movies that have not caught the user base’s fancy, or are not great enough to make into an elite must-watch list.)
My lazy Sunday yesterday became better with one such movie: The Good Girl (2002), where Jennifer Aniston plays a bored retail store clerk Justine. Justine has the trapped life synonymous with most of working class – an arid job which she has had for many years, and an indifferent husband Phil, who spends most of his time stoned on the couch, watching TV with his friend Bubba. Because she is bored, she craves for the opposite of her dull life. Thus the entry of a slightly eccentric and aloof ‘Holden’ as a new cashier in the store sparks her interest. Both characters are unhappy with the world, and this unhappiness brings them closer. Justine wants to conveniently keep this friendship as a mild distraction, but Holden is passionate, and insistent – and a flattered Justine gives in. They spend most of the relationship having passionate sex in a seedy motel. However, soon there are whispers in the store, and the Justine who is used to a quiet life, gets unsettled. Holden becomes more mercurial and demanding, sulking terribly when refused one of their secret trysts. To add to the misery, Bubba (Phil’s friend) sees the two of them going into the motel, and blackmails Justine into sleeping with him.
It is a rather well-knit story, in which Aniston slides in perfectly. It is hard to not sympathize with a girl who seems to walk limply beneath her unhappiness. She wants to escape her life, and you can see why. You can’t possibly grudge her this little romance, especially since you sympathized with a far less traumatized Laura in Brief Encounter. But at the same time, she is scared of Holden’s volatility, his youthful irrationality and even more of having to let go of Phil’s indifferent dependability. (He fixes her TV for her, holds her hand when a colleague dies – all the little things that seem to make many indifferent marriages work)
The movie is a work of contempt. Arteta/White (Director/Writer) do not seem sympathetic of the working class – they say as much in the stray characters, be it the Bible-reader Cornie, or the very-perked up Gwen, or the cretin Bubba. They even seem to regard Justine’s boredom and her distraction with contempt, looking at her as a sort of predator on Holden’s youthful passion. Yet, they depict her as a real person, and Aniston makes this person believable – regretful, indecisive, even a little evil and artful. A person, who sometimes, moved by a desire for freshness, is willing to blur moral boundaries. Arteta/White have also managed to get a comic touch in this otherwise depressive story of reality: through Cornie who curses non-believers with hellfire and the weird Cheryl, who is really ingenious in her marketing skills, but mostly with Justine’s attempts to control the situation.
If you think Aniston can best portray only the spoilt and fashionable Rachel Green, this movie will certainly surprise you.