Come for Jennifer Aniston, but chances are you will stay for
Lawrance M. Bernabo | The Zenith City, Duluth, Minnesota | 04/20/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"You can have a lot of fun trying to figure out the logic for this DVD combos. I figure this one is justified because "G" and "K" are close to each other in the alphabet. In "The Good Girl" you have a recognizable star playing a married woman in a small town, while in "Kissing Jessica Stein" you have an unknown playing a single girl in the big city who discovers she might be a lesbian. Just do not be surprised when you check these movies out because of Jennifer Aniston, but end up liking the other film a whole lot more.
In "The Good Girl," a 2002 film from director Miguel Arteta, Aniston plays Justine, a 30-year-old clerk who is bored to tears by her job at Retail Rodeo where the only excitement is when Cheryl (Zooey Deschanel) makes one of her "Attention, Shoppers" announcements over the public address system and starts spewing insults and bizarre nonsense. Cheryl is dispatched to doing makeovers for women customer, while Justine notices Holden (Jake Gyllenhaal), the new kid at the store who is reading "The Catcher in the Rye" and who dispenses its wisdom. Holden's name is really Tom, which makes his rants about hypocrisy rather ironic, but clearly he is the first breeze of any kind in Justine's life in a long, long time. Whatever his name, a college dropout sure beats what is waiting for her at home.
Justine is married to Phil (John C. Reilly), who paints houses and always wishes it was raining so he can keep watching television. Phil spends more time with his best buddy, Bubba (Tim Blake Nelson). During the day they paint houses and during the night they smoke weed and watch the tube. Bubba thinks of Justine as the ideal woman and having turned his back on ever having a relationship of his own with a woman vicariously enjoys the happy marriage of his best friend. No wonder Justine falls pretty to Holden's advances and their first tryst at a fleabag motel turns into grabbing every possible opportunity to do it again. Unfortunately, the amorous couple are seen and in an escalating series of events we wonder how high of a price Justine is going to have to pay.
You know that in every small town in America there is a girl with looks but without ambition who parlays her attractiveness into marrying a local stud who would never get out of that town alive. Actually, none of this background is mentioned in the film, but it makes sense that Phil must have done something in the past to get a girl like Justine. What is important in this film is that whatever he had and whatever he offered Justine it is long gone. This is a marriage that has no reason to exist beyond the fact that it does, which helps explain the resolution of this film as much as anything. The performance by the four principles are solid enough, and the supporting cast offers a variety of eccentrics that flesh out this particular seedy little town. "The Good Girl" is as much a character study as anything else and whatever its limitations finds a large measure of redemption in the final scene between husband and wife (3.5 Stars).
The title character in "Kissing Jessica Stein" (Jennifer Westfeldt) is a nice, young Jewish girl who cannot find herself a man. Based on the montage of some of the worst (and funniest) first dates in history, a reasonable course of action would be for Jessica to just stop looking, but she answers a "women seeking women" ad placed by Helen Cooper (Heather Juergensen), who is bisexual. As you watch this 2001 film it becomes clear that both women are looking for love rather than sex, which is perfect because this film is not about sex. The question here is not just whether the girl will get the girl, but what they are going to do when that finally happens.
There is something intrinsically sweet about the relationship between Jessica and Helen. Besides, the biggest obstacle to their happiness is not Josh Myers (Scott Cohen), Jessica's college boy friend, but Jessica herself, which remains both the character's curse and her charm. Helen is not sure what to expect when Jessica shows up and getting physical proves difficult because they are so many places where Jessica does not want to be touched, but there is an undeniable something between the two young women that serves as the basis for a relationship, with or without benefits. Once Helen becomes aware that Jessica loves her, she suddenly shows a patience that we would not have expected from her. Yet Helen is even more uncomfortable with the idea of her family and friends knowing about their relationship than she is with actual physical intimacy, and there is no doubt that things will come to a head between them.
Westfeldt and Juergensen first created and played the characters of Jessica and Helen for their stage play "Lipschtick," which certainly explains why they are both so totally comfortable in their roles. As writers they have created a script that is smart and witty, and one of the biggest surprises is that they do not give the film's best moment to themselves but to Tovah Feldshuh as Judy Stein, Jessica's mother. I have been a fan of Feldshuh's for years, but I was still blown away by her mother-daughter talk with Jessica, and the exquisitely powerful delivery of a single line. This is one of those memorable jewels of a moment in a movie where you know you will never forget it and just thinking about it invokes its power. "Kissing Jessica Stein" is not a great romantic comedy, but it is very good, which makes it stand out in that genre, especially with regards to same sex romantic comedies. Besides, any romance that treats both the heart and the head with equal regard is worth checking out (4.5 Stars)."