A Good Person Review
Written and directed by Zach Braff, A Good Person explores what happens when bad things happen to good people. As the story unfolds, the audience sees that a “good person” is usually flawed and complicated one.
Garden State, Braff’s directorial debut in 2004, was beloved by audiences and critics. It was a coming-of-age story with relatable characters. The plot line was brilliant in its simplicity, allowing for more focus on character and relationship growth in the narrative.
Garden State and A Good Person have a lot in common besides Braff’s hand in writing and direction. Both films heavily feature a middle-class suburban New Jersey backdrop. The protagonists struggle with family dysfunction and addiction. Dark humor is abundant and suits the characters’ moods. Bikes are a primary mode of transportation. However, A Good Person tries to tackle too many plots in its two-hour timeframe, leaving not enough time to develop and wrap them.
A Good Place begins with the characters settled in a good place. A tipsy Allison (Florence Pugh) soulfully dedicates a love song to her fiancé, Nathan (Chinaza Uche). This brief glimpse of “before Allison” lets the audience see how much she has to lose. An accident the next day changes Allison’s life and her relationship with Nathan forever. The story picks up one year later, as Allison struggles with an opioid addiction following her accident. Allison’s mother (Molly Shannon) enables her behavior and glosses over her daughter’s attempts to ask for help.
Allison’s guilt leads her to Nathan’s father, Daniel (Morgan Freeman) and Daniel’s granddaughter, Ryan (Celeste O’Connor). Their complicated dynamic allows Allison to see her situation with more honesty. When Allison sees how the consequences of her accident reverberate in Nathan’s family, she learns to take responsibility for herself and the consequences that remain.
Florence Pugh, best known for her role in the controversial film, Don’t Worry, Darling, gives a heartrending performance in A Good Person. Braff’s use of close-up shots underscores her character’s pain and suffering realistically. His television background makes close-up shots a comfortable and strategic choice for telling Allison’s story. In one scene, Braff masterfully sets up a close-up shot that highlights Allison in a three-way mirror. This shot shows Allison’s reflection as clear in one mirror and blurred in another during an emotional turning point.
Pugh thrives in a small screen setting. Her ability to convey each distinct layer of Allison’s suffering gives the movie depth and makes the audience care about her character. Pugh’s gift for showing instead of telling draws the audience into her orbit in a way that elicits empathy instead of frustration. Allison has a flawed, but ultimately redemptive character arc that suffers from the fast pacing toward the climax.
Morgan Freeman also gives a standout performance, as a grandfather struggling with guilt. His display of grief changes thoughtfully throughout the story. He carries the plot twists with dignity and grace. His comedic timing is impeccable and keeps the script from becoming too weighed down with tragedy. Freeman and Pugh play off each other seamlessly, although some of their dialogue comes off as overly sympathetic.
Despite the combined talents of Freeman, Pugh, and the supporting cast, the film’s plot tries to tackle too many problems in its two-hour running time. It focuses on opioid addiction, alcohol addiction, physical abuse, dysfunctional parent-child relationships, family estrangement, violence, parental death, depression, and suicide. While the opioid addition arc has resonance, the myriad of other plot lines dilute it.
Braff transitions scenes well. There are several time jumps in the story that blend seamlessly under his direction. However, with each time jump, the audience has to catch up on the events they missed. The backstory needed to keep the audience invested in the plot took attention away from the emotionally resonant storylines at hand.
Important points became repetitive. Allison’s insistence that she was not at fault for the accident is a clear sign she needs to take responsibility for herself to move on. Repeated references to the origin of Nathan’s deafness leads to the conclusion there is more to the story.
The climax of the story feels too exaggerated and out of line with the characters and the progress they made. It would have resonated more if the inciting events magnified the character’s struggles in their relationships with one another. Instead, the too-fast climax had the characters playing second to the plot. The movie has a strong, talented cast of veteran actors who are underutilized in the climax. Several epilogue scenes one year after the climax don’t offer the closure needed, given the weight of the plot lines.
Braff’s attentive direction, combined with an accomplished cast, yields a heartbreaking story. However, this movie feels like watching several movies in one. Braff’s stories are strongest when he leans into straightforward plots and lets the characters take the lead.