Written and Directed by Zach Braff.
Starring Florence Pugh, Morgan Freeman, Molly Shannon, Celeste O’Connor, Zoe Lister-Jones, Chinaza Uche, Toby Onwumere, Nichelle Hines, Ignacio Diaz-Silverio, Oli Green, Brian Rojas, Ryann Redmond, Sydney Morton, Jackie Hoffman, Victor Cruz, Anthony Cedeño, and Emilia Suárez.
Allison’s life falls apart following her involvement in a fatal accident. The unlikely relationship she forms with her would-be father-in-law helps her live a life worth living.
Trauma is laid on thick by writer and director Zach Braff in A Good Person, sometimes ringing true and occasionally forced. There is no single character that doesn’t have an expressive personality cranked up to 11. However, there are also scathingly raw moments of different types of addiction and forms of self-loathing, built into some truly thorny character relationship dynamics so authentically performed that there’s a good enough reason to let the shortcomings slide.
Florence Pugh is Allison, engaged to Nathan (Chinaza Uche), living a relatively happy life pondering other dreams to pursue. At 26, she is still young enough to achieve any goal set. The next day while driving with Nathan’s sister-in-law and her husband on the New Jersey Turnpike, tragedy strikes with a fatal car accident that kills everyone inside aside from Allison. This is also where Zach Braff makes a wise choice to reveal from the beginning that this accident is partially the fault of Allison, who was far too into conversation while driving, eventually opening up a map app on her phone, which turns out to be the deadliest mistake of them all literally.
One of the most intriguing aspects of A Good Person is that it’s not just a film about survivor’s guilt but a survivor directly responsible for these deaths in a way that could have been avoided. One year later, Allison has left her fiancé, slipped into an Oxy addiction following her facial injuries, and hasn’t truly confronted the irresponsibility of her actions.
Now living back in her hometown, there is an early bar scene (she goes anywhere and tries anything to get a fix after her mom, played by Molly Shannon, flushed the rest down the toilet) where Allison encounters a pair of directionless burnouts that can get her drugs but were also boys during high school that she always thought she was superior to. It’s a devastating crashing-down-to-earth moment that Allison might not see that way. It’s tough to say who is better or even a good person here, but there is something vile about these once-bullied patrons that is more about twisted vindication than trying to make a reasonable point about whoever Allison was during high school.
Scenes like the ones mentioned above are phenomenally acted by Florence Pugh, who is extraordinary in this challenging role that also demands her to sing (for reasons I won’t spoil, but the lyrics are shatteringly depressing) on top of believably playing an addict who consistently relapses and finds herself in low moments, absolutely despising what she sees in the mirror (another scene bound to wreck anyone that watches this).
A Good Person also has to make time for the other characters, such as Nathan’s parentless niece Ryan (Celeste O’Connor), now living with Daniel (Morgan Freeman, who hasn’t committed to a performance with this much passion and dedication in at least ten years), the former alcoholic police officer that would occasionally get so drunkenly violent he physically beat Nathan deaf in one ear. Father and son didn’t even speak to one another when Nathan was together with Allison, but there are forgiveness and redemption arcs here. There is also an honest depiction that even someone clean for a decade good relapse over unexpected traumatic events, as Daniel and Allison wind up in the same AA meeting, with the former deciding to support the latter as if it’s God’s will.
Meanwhile, Ryan has become a problem child disinterested in soccer and obtaining a scholarship, dangerously interested and sexually intimate with a 20-year-old man, which naturally causes one of Daniel’s violent outbursts. Morgan Freeman being forced into talking to a teenager about safe sex and inappropriate partners is already a realistic (and sometimes organically hilarious) enough plot point, but there are many instances where Zach Braff begins to pile drama on (including a bit where Daniel drunkenly grabs a gun for bad intentions) for the sake of it when nuance would have been more welcome.
Some of these characters and scenarios fare better when they are in the presence of Allison, but even then, everything feels like it’s slipping away from Zach Braff’s grip when the story leans a bit too hard into a certain kind of destiny born from Ryan’s misguided but well-intentioned actions toward Allison and Nathan.
Much like the model train world that Daniel has been constructing over decades of his life while delivering some early narration comparing the happy perfection of his escapist hobby to real life, A Good Person falls somewhere in between; there are good and bad things that sometimes happen out of nowhere to push the plot forward as if the film is Zach Braff’s version of a model world. However, it is a powerful story anchored by truly remarkable performances.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at [email protected]
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