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FILM THERAPY
Comedic ode to depression
BY BROOKE HOLGERSON

In the indie-film world, probably no director has made more " indie " choices than Miguel Arteta. Chuck & Buck (2000) was a pitch-black comedy about a man who stalks his childhood friend, with a not-so-ambiguous homosexual subtext. And Star Maps (1997) looked at teenage-male prostitution. Which makes Artetaís new film, The Good Girl, almost a mainstream romantic comedy. For one, it stars Jennifer Aniston, a choice Arteta loves ó even if he takes her in a very Arteta direction. " First we were trying to cast for type, " the director told me when he was in town recently to promote the film. " You know, we were going through the usual list of dark, independent-film actresses. And though I love them, it didnít seem as exciting as when Mike [White, the screenwriter for The Good Girl and Chuck & Buck] brought up Jennifer Aniston. I was like, ĎYeah, Americaís sweetheart doing all these morally screwed up things.í It seemed fun. "

Arteta cast Aniston as Justine, a depressed cashier at the fictional Texas discount store the Retail Rodeo. Choosing an actress the world knows as Rachel from Friends to play a character who cheats on her husband with a 21-year-old college dropout is typical of the 32-year-old Arteta, who aims to expose Americaís seamy underbelly. " I think Mike White was making a really interesting commentary with the film about Americans, " he says. " Where can we fit in? I mean, thereís a whole tradition of American conformity. Itís, like, get used to the American dream. And then thereís an idea of American rebelliousness thatís also kind of a tradition, and I think the movieís saying, you know, when sheís in that corner deciding whether to go left with her lover or right with her husband, the movieís sort of saying, ĎYou know what? The truth of the matter is, if you conform youíre not going to be happy or unhappy. And if you rebel, youíre not going to be happy or unhappy. Itís more complicated than that.í  "

Although The Good Girl darkly depicts what itís like to be depressed in Middle America today, its themes are more likely to connect with a broader audience than did the extreme behaviors depicted in Artetaís previous films. At least, itís not difficult to understand Justineís rejection of her doltish, house-painter husband Phil (John C. Reilly), who hangs out on the couch all day smoking pot with his pal Bubba (Tim Blake Nelson). For Arteta, the filmís themes reflect his own preoccupations. " Maybe Iím just getting healthier, " he says. " The movies have worked like free therapy for me. And I definitely know that The Good Girl seems like [it has] a more universal theme. In some ways, The Good Girl is kind of like a comedic ode to depression. And that is so pervasive, you know. We all deal with that. Itís like, weíre the wealthiest nation in the world, and weíre all unhappy. " On the other hand, he says, " Maybe itís just a byproduct of me getting old. "

Although Mike White has written two more scripts set at the Retail Rodeo (one has his own character, the Bible-thumping security guard Corny, giving up religion and joining the menís movement), donít expect Arteta to stay in the independent world forever. " Itís possible to work for a studio and do interesting work now, " he acknowledges. " You have to be a guest in their home, thatís the way I see it. But I think I could be an interesting guest. "

The Good Girl opens Friday, August 16. See " Film Listings " for theaters and times.

Issue Date: August 15 - 22, 2002
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