Simply Good: Aniston breathes life into new role

Independent films show that movies needn't be lavish, effects-filled overproductions. The Good Girl does that, but it also shows the same thing about hell: it doesn't have to be full of fire and horned red imps but can be defined by the ruts we dig for ourselves in our everyday lives.

At 30, Justine Last (Jennifer Aniston) has reached the point where the world, which once seemed like a candy store, now feels like a prison– and she's on death row. She's been married seven years to Phil (John C. Reilly), a house painter in the small Texas town where she cashiers at the Retail Rodeo discount store.

Actually she's married to "a couple of potheads" because Phil's inseparable from his painting partner, Bubba (Tim Blake Nelson), who hangs at their house, having no life of his own. They have no children (Bubba doesn't count) and presume Justine's infertile until a test indicates otherwise.

Beer and marijuana help Phil escape from his dead-end life, but Justine has no such outlet until a new guy (Jake Gyllenhaal) comes to work at the store. A dark, brooding loner, his name is Tom ("It's my slave name"), but he calls himself Holden after Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye, who he says is "put upon by society and the hypocrisy of the world."

A would-be writer, Holden is 22, dropped out of college because of a drinking problem, and lives with his parents, who "don't get me." "My husband doesn't get me," Justine says. You can guess where that's going to lead.

Well, you can guess some of it; but The Good Girl was written by Mike White, who has a supporting role as an evangelical security guard, and directed by Miguel Arteta, the team that gave you Chuck & Buck. This one may not be that strange, but it's not a pat, formulaic Hollywood movie either.

Portents abound, whether it's Phil saying "The wind's comin' in different lately"; Justine telling Holden, "I saw in your eyes that you hate the world. I hate it too"; or Holden's idea of sweet nothings: "I wanna knock your head open and see what's inside."

Even when Justine comes to a crossroads and has to determine her future by a literal decision to turn right or left, things that seem simply resolved require a lot of tying up of loose ends.

Aniston's performance is largely built on a single note– well, a single chord– but a good one, made up of discontent and confusion. Gyllenhaal, having his second affair with an older woman this summer after Lovely & Amazing, matures nicely into his first post-teen role. His character is closer to Eminem's Stan (with a touch of Bobbie Gentry's Billie Joe) than Salinger's Holden, but he inspires the right mix of fear and pity.

Anyone who's ever felt the place they live is too small for their dreams will relate to The Good Girl; but if Bubba is right that "Givin' up your a part of getting older," what constitutes a happy ending to a story like this?