Friends will soon disappear from TV's Thursday-night lineup, but don't worry about Jennifer Aniston. She'll remain in the spotlight, and not just because she's married to Brad Pitt. Aniston has emerged as the strongest actor of the Friends cast. While all the others have made movies, they've been unable to shake their Friends personas in the parts they've played.
Aniston's work in films like The Object Of My Affection, Office Space and She's The One have fostered her growth as an actor, and it's that superb talent that's showcased in her newest film, The Good Girl (see review, page 69).
From the writer and director of Chuck & Buck (Mike White and Miguel Arteta respectively) comes this dark tale of a depressed Texas department store clerk (Aniston) whose affair with young cashier Holden (Jake Gyllenhaal) spirals out of control.
"I was hooked by page three of the script," says Aniston. "I had no choice -- I was compelled by some magnetic force to take the part.
"I was feeling stuck myself in terms of my career. I was thankful for what I had and yet wanted to break out and do something else. I thought, "Am I playing it too safe? Am I too comfy?' I wanted to challenge myself."
Aniston, writer White and director Arteta are seated together on a couch in a downtown hotel suite. The trio are being interviewed and photographed as a group, a stipulation by Aniston, who wants to keep the media from focusing solely on her. She has a point. She's the household name everyone wants a piece of, but White and Arteta deserve as much attention as their female lead.
White wrote the script for The Good Girl after completing Chuck & Buck. It was a depressing time for the writer, who didn't see a future for the script.
"I was out of money," remembers White. "I was living on credit cards and trying to come up with something I thought would help me get out of this situation. And instead of writing something grossly commercial, I ended up writing The Good Girl. I needed to capture that sense of desperation and need to escape."
White, who looks like a hangdog version of Howdy Doody, has established himself as a premier storyteller, a fact that doesn't escape his cohort, Arteta.
"Mike finds the humour in how misguided we are sometimes," he says. "In trying to help themselves, his characters do the worst things possible, but in a way that makes you laugh."
The Good Girl is full of melancholy humour, the kind that makes you giggle and cringe at the same time. I hope audiences warm up to this dour yet very funny film. But ultimately, these three aren't worried about approval; they're glad they got to make the movie they wanted.
"You can never come to a final place that determines what's good or bad," notes Aniston. "As an actor, I make the commitment to keep exploring, and some things are going to work and some are going to suck."
"Whether I was toiling away in obscurity or not, I'd be doing the same thing," adds White.
"Yeah, it's like cooking for yourself," says Arteta. "You enjoy what you make, but when you cook for others it changes. If they like it it's good, but if they don't it's bad. You can't get hung up on that."
the good girl directed by Miguel Arteta, written by Mike White, produced by Matthew Greenfield, with Jennifer Aniston, Jake Gyllenhaal, John C. Reilly, Tim Blake Nelson and White. 110 minutes. A Fox Serachlight Pictures release Opens Friday (August 16). For venues and times, see First-Run movies, page 69. Rating: NNNN