A topsy-turvy affair

The Good Girl
Rated R
Starts tomorrow at area theaters
Two-and-a-half reels out of four

The Good Girl is so all over the map emotionally and stylistically that you need a compass, a good pair of hiking boots and a guide just to traverse the terrain safely.

Fortunately, a guide does show up in the personage of Jennifer Aniston, who gives a performance so grounded, so gosh-darn human that you forgive the movie’s greater excesses.

Aniston plays Justine, a married and very dissatisfied clerk in a Texas department store — you know, the kind that is basically one large space with a bunch of stuff crammed in. Only this one is so cheesy, it makes Wal-Mart look like Neiman Marcus. Justine begins an affair with Holden, a fellow clerk who seems to be the only one who "gets her." When Justine becomes pregnant, things get complicated when it is revealed her husband (John C. Reilly) is infertile and his best friend Bubba (Tim Blake Nelson) knows about the affair.

Aniston herself is quite amazing in this part. I always have felt she projected a genuine decency, even in Friends, the show where she made her name. She is unforgettable showing us Justine’s unhappiness with her job and her personal life. It is no surprise that Aniston is adept as a light comedian, but she also shows herself to be a strong dramatic actor. Her primary strength is this unearthly ability to remain calm no matter what befalls her character. This only seems to draw us into Justine and make us follow her every move.

The supporting cast is also quite good. Reilly is at once insufferable and dumb as her pot-smoking but earnest husband. Jake Gyllenhaal makes Holden a comically tragic figure. The rest of the cast is also fine, including Zooey Deshcanel as a fellow employee who can’t shake her urge to tweak the rubes that make up the clientele.

There are many good moments in The Good Girl. But the problem is an inconsistency of tone. One moment, the movie is a dark comedy exposing the underbelly of the working class. The next, it is an intense melodrama exposing the underbelly of the working class.

Director Miguel Areta and sceenwriter Mike White have their intentions in the right place, but with the exception of an amazing performance by the lead actress, the movie is neither fish nor fowl.

We Were Soldiers
Rated R
Available Tuesday

Brought to you by the people who gave us Braveheart, We Were Soldiers is the straightforward story of the first real battle of the Vietnam War. The movie is based on the book We Were Soldiers Once … and Young by retired Lt. Gen. Harold G. Moore and Joe Galloway, a UPI reporter who witnessed the event. Mel Gibson plays Moore, the career soldier upon whom fell the task of commanding 400 green soldiers against 2,000 seasoned Vietnamese troops. Director Randall Wallace takes an unflinching, unsentimental look at a forgotten moment of American history.