THE STORY – Allison is a young woman with a wonderful fiance, a blossoming career, and supportive family and friends. However, her world crumbles in the blink of an eye when she survives an unimaginable tragedy, emerging from recovery with an opioid addiction and unresolved grief. In the following years, she forms an unlikely friendship with her would-be father-in-law that gives her a fighting chance to put her life back together and move forward.
THE CAST – Florence Pugh, Molly Shannon, Chinaza Uche, Celeste O’Connor & Morgan Freeman
THE TEAM – Zach Braff (Director/Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 129 Minutes
Six years after his last directorial feature – 2017’s “Going in Style” – Zach Braff has taken his place behind the camera once more, additionally helming the first film he’s written as well since 2014’s “Wish I Was Here,” making this year’s “A Good Person” feel like a true return to form for the multi-hyphenate, as he seeks to show that he’s “still got it.” Sure, Braff has kept himself busy in the interim by directing episodes of hit Apple TV+ series like “Ted Lasso” and “Shrinking,” but “A Good Person” is the first project that fully comes from his brain and his brain alone, offering his first true solo artistic statement of the 2020s, and one that’s additionally far more dramatic than what he’s shown us in the past, perhaps signaling a more “serious” future for a star known best for his comedy, particularly on the popular 2000s comedy “Scrubs.” However, while “A Good Person” is ultimately less than the sum of the parts as a result of some heavy-handed straining for a harder-hitting emotional impact, Braff does manage to get great performances out of the entirety of his ensemble cast, which makes this tenderhearted tragedy worth a watch regardless.
When the film begins, Allison (a phenomenal Florence Pugh) is on top of the world, smiling brightly and belting out a song for all her friends at an engagement party for her and her fiancé Nathan (Chinaza Uche), which ends in “awws” and applause (as well as a dramatized display of affection between the two to really seal the deal). However, in only one day, all of this comes crashing down as, the next afternoon, when running errands with Nathan’s sister Molly (Nichelle Hines) and her husband Jesse (Toby Onwumere), Allison crashes her car, resulting in a catastrophic accident that leaves Molly and Jesse dead and her confined to a hospital bed. The next time we see Allison, a year has passed, the stress caused by the car accident caused her relationship with Nathan to end, and she’s now stuck living at home with her overbearing mother Diane (a side-splitting Molly Shannon), simultaneously struggling with an oxy addiction she hasn’t been able to kick since she stopped physical therapy. To put it plainly, it’s not looking pretty.
However, Allison’s life changes over the course of one day once more as, when making an effort to attend her first NA meeting, she happens to run into Nathan and Molly’s father, Daniel (Morgan Freeman), an uptight, ornery man who already didn’t approve of Allison when she and Nathan were simply engaged, only for those feelings to now pale in comparison to the complicated emotions he harbors for her after – accidentally or not – causing the death of one of his children. Still, in this lost soul, Daniel sees himself as, years prior, he suffered from alcohol addiction (an affliction that continues to leave him alienated from Nathan), which is what leads him to these meetings to help others handle the pains of their past (and present). And so, a finicky, fledgling friendship forms between the two since, as fate would have it, they’re the only ones who truly “get” what the other is going through – and the only ones who can help each other out of this rut as well.
Though the entire ensemble is aces here (the aforementioned Shannon steals every scene every chance she gets, showing off every facet of her comedy genius, while Celeste O’Connor delivers brutal emotional blows as Daniel’s granddaughter – and Molly’s daughter – who also struggles to make sense of her parents’ deaths), “A Good Person” is ultimately the “Florence Pugh And Morgan Freeman Show,” boy do they make a meal of this movie. Pugh – already regarded as one of her generation’s best actresses- can turn even the most threadbare story into Shakespeare thanks to the depth of her dramatic commitment to every role she takes (“Don’t Worry Darling,” anyone?). Allison is no different, as even though she’s asked to hit familiar beats as a “recovering addict” grappling with “grief and trauma,” it never feels like Pugh is just “going through the motions” because she so thoroughly aligns herself with Allison’s identity until the two are one, and we no longer see the star.
Freeman – another actor who needs no introduction – gives Daniel the same amount of sincere, sophisticated dimension, and it’s a treat to watch him and Pugh goes back and forth – especially as their conversations oscillate from caustic to calm – with the “new kid” holding her own against “the legend” and even giving the latter a run for his money at times. Their repartee, whether composed or emotionally charged, is riveting. It says a lot about their acting abilities that they’re able to make (most of) their scenes seem authentic and honest, even as the script tends to trade thematic candor for mawkish melodrama. Braff’s direction is more disciplined, but his dialogue – especially in the third act, where the film threatens to go off the rails as it leans into theatrics to resolve its central conflicts – needed to be refined through a few more drafts of the screenplay to match the might of the performers bringing these parts to life. Thankfully, he sticks the landing with a sentimental – but far less schmaltzy – denouement, but in the next one, he might want to make sure we can’t see his efforts to tug on our heartstrings so clearly. Nevertheless, “A Good Person” never becomes unwatchable by any means, as Pugh and Freeman are too intricately invested in the story to stumble alongside the script. Still, it is a shame to see the film settle for “good” when this person could’ve been “great.”