Be Sure To Grab The Good Girl

I love the wild, cult films being released by all the popular boutique labels as much as the next guy, but it feels like the pendulum has swung so far in their direction that we're losing sight of all the great catalog titles we still need from the studios.  So it's great when I get to shine my little spotlight on something like this: an under-represented overseas label coming out with a long-awaited BD debut that none of the other review sites seem interested in.  In this case it's Germany's Spirit Media releasing 2002's The Good Girl, the second film from the Chuck & Buck team Miguel Arteta and Mike White, and one that I daresay surpasses all the Best Picture nominees it would've competed with that year, had it not been relegated to the Independent Spirit Awards like most of the best films from that era.
Writer Mike White stepped back into a supporting role for this one, as the filmmakers' break-out success allowed them to rope in some serious star power this time around.  So Jennifer Aniston - right at the peak of her post-Friends fame - stars as the titular good girl, an honorific we learn might be deeply ironic in this earnest dark comedy.  In fact, everything's at their peak in this film: the script, several of the performances including Aniston's - they've yet to top their work here.  And this is a stellar cast, with John C. Reilly, Jake Gyllenhaal, Tim Blake Nelson, Deborah Rush, John Carroll Lynch and Zooey Deschanel all in top form.  This is one of those rare comedies that's equally poignant as a drama, and it's a shame so many of the people who made this film went on to mostly blander, commercial fare.
20th Century Fox released this as a new release in 2003.  That's a little before blu-ray's time, so fans had no complaints about the special edition flipper disc that gave us anamorphic widescreen transfer on one side and fullscreen on the other.  But in the ensuing years, this is one of those key titles I'd look at on my shelf and think, "oh, come on already!"  And it only just now has, in Germany only.  With its major stars, you'd think somebody would've stuck a blu into Best Buys and Walmarts long before now.  But looking at the master, maybe I can see why home video companies were reluctant to spring for it.
1) 2003 Fox fullscreen DVD; 2) 2003 Fox widescreen DVD; 3) 2020 Spirit BD.
Not that Spirit Media's blu is a disaster; don't get me wrong.  Their new HD release is a much-needed boost in clarity that I recommend anyone upgrade to.  Fox's old DVD was quite good for its time, not much unfortunate image manipulation or dead space in the overscan areas, gently matted to 1.82:1 (or an unattractively re-framed 1.33:1, depending which side of the disc you're watching).  It's just soft, which the BD happily improves, and slightly vertically, pinched, which the BD also corrects to an exact 1.85:1.  There is a bit of edge enhancement, which made sense for a master meant to be compressed to SD, but is a little disappointing now.

2020 Spirit BD.
But the real issue is in the black levels, which as you can see in the second set of shots, sometimes glows blue.  It reminds me of Sony's Eat Drink Man Woman blu, although in this case, we can see that the problem dates back to the equally guilty DVD.  It's not consistent; it comes and goes depending on the scene.  You can see in the shot to the left, the blacks look perfectly fine.  At its worst moments, though, it is distracting, and it almost looks worse on the blu not because it actually is any worse, but because the rest of the picture quality looking so much nicer makes it stand out more.  But again, it is just as present in the DVD, so there's no escaping it, making Spirit's blu still easily the best option.

That includes lossless audio as well.  The DVD had the original English 5.1 in Dolby with a Spanish dub and English and Spanish subtitles.  The blu bumps the English track up to DTS-HD and (naturally) swaps the Spanish dub for a German one, with optional German subtitles.  We do lose the English subs, however.
An area Spirit didn't need to improve on Fox was the extras; the DVD was already a pretty rewarding special edition.  Arteta and White to a smart and sometimes funny (White anguishes every time he realizes Arteta removed a line of dialogue) audio commentary, and they even got Aniston to do her own, partial commentary (it's just select scenes, but it's informative and of course rare to get a major star to participate).  Then there's a collection of deleted scenes, many of which could've stayed in the picture, including a slightly different ending, and those all also have optional commentary by Arteta and White.  The only thing it was missing was the trailer, which Spirit has added (fullscreen, in English) as well as a new stills gallery.
In an ideal world, this would get a remaster for a fancy Criterion, with all the little flaws ironed out and a 20th anniversary retrospective.  But considering this is The Good Girl's first blu-ray release in all these many years, I wouldn't count on anything more than what we've just gotten, which is still a solid upgrade for an essential film.  I mean, what're you gonna do, watch the DVD in 2021?

1 comment:

  1. I watch the fullscreen DVD on a CRT as God intended, especially since the Fullscreen DVD is open matte and shows more image compared to the 1.85:1 presentation.
    It's like IMAX on a retro tube TV.