by Ben Kenigsberg The premise of the paranoia thriller One Hour Photo -- a clerk at a one hour photo stand becomes jealous of a family whose photos he ...

Print Email

by Ben Kenigsberg

The premise of the paranoia thriller

One Hour Photo

-- a clerk at a one hour photo stand becomes jealous of a family whose photos he develops -- is a great one. "No one ever takes a photograph of something they want to forget," says Sy (Robin Williams), the photo guy, in a bit of Hitchcockian foreshadowing that's both scary and funny.

The best sequence in the film is a brilliant montage over which Sy describes the different kinds of customers he gets -- amateur pornographers, old ladies who only photograph their cats, new parents. When it works,

One Hour Photo

achieves the same voyeuristic feel that

Rear Window

fed on; there's a sort of kinky thrill in knowing more than you feel you should about the sordid inner-lives of the supporting characters. The sense of unease is perpetuated through use of a Lynchian hum on the soundtrack, and the music keeps threatening to turn into a Bernard Herrmann score. Moments of more overt stylization, like a Bergman-influenced dream sequence with a ticking clock on the soundtrack, don't work as well.

One Hour Photo

ultimately squanders its premise. It doesn't go exactly where you expect it to, but it never catches you off guard either. Writer-director Mark Romanek says his inspirations were "lonely man" thrillers like

Taxi Driver


The Conversation

, but he fails to give

One Hour Photo

a comparably creepy atmosphere or similarly nuanced character development. Although Williams is suitably unnerving (if not a revelation) in the lead, his part is thinly written. It's obvious from the beginning that he has an unhealthy obsession with the Yorkin family (he knows their address off the top of his head), and it should be obvious to them too. Stone-faced, platinum blond and weighed down by big-rimmed glasses, Sy looks and acts like a movie-movie psychopath -- he even grabs his head during fits, as if trying to silence the voices inside his head. Romanek pointlessly tries to justify Sy's behavior: we're supposed to believe that he's only crazy because he had an unhappy childhood.

One Hour Photo

would be more frightening -- and probably more realistic -- if Sy appeared to be a well-adjusted member of society.

The Good Girl

also earns points for defying expectation. The film tells the story of Justine (Jennifer Aniston), a clerk at Retail Rodeo (sort of a dumpy Texas version of K-Mart) who yearns for escape from her dull job and her pothead husband, Phil (John C. Reilly). Justine seeks adventure in an affair with a boy who calls himself Holden (Jake Gyllenhaal), after Holden Caulfield, who's just as confused as she is.

Phil isn't as defined a character as he could be, though, because it's easier for the filmmakers to take potshots at an oaf than at a complex human being.

The Good Girl

never achieves a


-like balance: it can't decide whether its characters should be treated with dignity or with derision. Serious scenes -- like one where Justine confronts Phil because she thinks his pot smoking has made him infertile -- exist uneasily with the comedy at Retail Rodeo.

The Good Girl

treats its characters with more respect than most Hollywood films in what might (offensively) be called the white trash genre, but it fails to go the distance: it doesn't understand that we'd rather empathize with the characters than laugh at them.

In that most common sign of screenwriting laziness, instead of resolving the entanglements of the love triangle,

The Good Girl

simply kills off a character. The film was written by Mike White and directed by Miguel Arteta, the team responsible for the uneven

Chuck & Buck

(2000), who have a clearer idea of what they want to say this time, but not of how they want to say it.