Featuring excellent performances from Florence Pugh and Morgan Freeman, Zach Braff’s A Good Person is a well-made adult drama, Though doesn’t tread any new ground of the addiction/grief genre, the film is well-made and watchable, if a little overwrought.
Pugh stars as Allison, a promising young woman engaged to Nathan (Chinaza Uche). Following a devastating car accident, and the disillusion of the engagement, Allison becomes addicted to opioids. Nathan’s father Daniel (Freeman) is struggling to care for his granddaughter Ryan (Celeste O’Connor) following the death of her parents.
Realizing she has a problem, Allison finds a local substance abuse meeting, which Daniel happens to be a part of. Daniel encourages Allison to stay and the two develop an unlikely friendship of shared grief and regret.
Despite the heavy subject matter, it’s as if Braff just can’t help from adding highly comedic aspects to the film. There are moments of dry or morose humor, but there are other pieces that are pulled out of a much lighter movie. These moments pull you out of the melodrama. It’s as if Braff has 95% of his heart in this story, but still has his toe in the realm of screwball comedy. Though the humorous moments are entertaining, it shows a lack of commitment to the pull of the story.
Nothing about the film is surprising. People yell at each other, characters have to come to their own understandings and realizations, and love eventually conquers all. This is a film much more about the skill and watchability of the actors than it is the story, despite the film thinking otherwise.
Pugh is worth the price of admission alone. We’ve seen a hundred films and televisions shows of people dealing with grief and addiction, but Pugh makes it feel so lived-in and authentic. Whether she’s attempting to manipulate an old friend for drugs, or be kind to Ryan, Pugh gives Allison a vulnerability and believability that transcends what was on the page. Time and time again, she is given interesting and complex roles that she continually delivers fascinating and above all, entertaining performances. She is remarkable.
Freeman is doing some of his best work in years as well. Long saddled with subpar material or stock characters, Nathan is the first time in over a decade Freeman has a chance to do some actual acting. It gives the actor a jolt of electricity we haven’t seen from him in a while. His easy chemistry with Pugh is one of the film highlights.
Uche is a pleasant addition to the cast, but his character is woefully underdeveloped. On the flip side, O’Connor has plenty to do, but she doesn’t do much with it. The Ryan character and O’Connor’s performance is one of the things that drags the film down. Molly Shannon is a welcome distraction from the darkness the film has in store, while also landing in a realm of realism as a mother just wanting the best for her daughter.
Braff has a tendency to default to his previous directorial efforts with indie rock needle drops and overly cutsie dialogue now and again. But, those instances are few and far between enough to be excused. Mostly, he gets out of his own way and lets his talented cast do the heavy lifting. He does lay it on a bit thick, especially with small flashbacks to the car accident.
A Good Person is a grief and addiction drama we have all seen before. Regardless, the excellent performances of Pugh and Freeman elevate what would be a stock narrative above others.
A Good Person is now playing in select theaters and expands wide on Friday, March 31st
Review: “Women Talking” is Exhaustingly Powerful
Review: Gentle Kindness Propels the Exceptional “The Quiet Girl”
You can follow me on Twitter, Instagram, and Letterboxd.
Make sure to subscribe and keep up with everything IC4F has to offer! IT’S FREE!