Good Person, A (United States, 2023)March 30, 2023
There are times when casting really does matter and A Good Person is an excellent example. Made with two lesser leads, this might have been no better than a Hallmark TV movie about addiction, recovery, and renewal. However, the participation of Florence Pugh and Morgan Freeman, both in top form, transforms this from a middling weeper into a deeply felt meditation about the ravages of drug addiction. At its best, A Good Person is challenging. Freeman brings elements of quiet dignity and desperation to a role that’s more nuanced than it initially seems to be. Pugh is wrenching as Allison, a woman whose future is eclipsed by a tragedy resulting from a few seconds’ ill-advised decision.
For roughly two-thirds of its running length, Zach Braff’s screenplay provides an effective backdrop for the actors. The movie’s last act (beginning with a club scene set in New York City) forces the characters to play second fiddle to the manipulations of the storyline. I understand why Braff opted for a less destructive arc for his characters – few films are equally as powerful and unwatchable as Requiem for a Dream – but the final 30 minutes of A Good Person seem like they belong to a more conventional motion picture. Still, when I think about Allison (Florence Pugh) and Daniel (Morgan Freeman), it’s with tremendous empathy – empathy the results from the alchemy of the actors’ performances and Braff’s workmanlike direction.
The movie opens with an optimistic scene set at the engagement party of Allison (Florence Pugh) and Nathan (Chinaza Uche). But that flash of happiness proves to be fleeting. While driving on the New Jersey Turnpike on the way to look at wedding dresses, Allison spends too long glancing at the traffic app on her phone. She is unable to stop in time to avoid a backhoe in a construction zone. The resulting crash leaves her badly injured and kills her passengers (Nathan’s sister and brother-in-law). She awakens in a hospital room to the news.
A year later, Allison’s life is in shambles. She has broken up with Nathan and lives with her mother, Diane (Molly Shannon). She is reliant on the oxycontin prescribed by her doctor for pain management and, when her mother flushes her remaining pills down the toilet, she demeans herself at a local bar in exchange for a hit. Meanwhile, Nathan’s orphaned niece, high school athlete Ryan (Celeste O’Connor), has understandably had trouble adjusting to a life with no father or mother. She lives with her grandfather, ex-cop Daniel (Morgan Freeman), who is having trouble navigating the waters of being a caregiver in the 2020s. A recovering alcoholic (ten years sober) who was abusive toward Nathan as a child, Daniel is doing what he can to make amends by caring for Ryan. His form of personal therapy is an extensive basement train set that recreates the world as he wishes it was. Stress in his relationship with Ryan sends Daniel back to AA, which is where is “reunited” with Allison, who has just started. Although he blames her for the crash, he tries to put the feelings of anger and resentment behind him and help her on her personal journey of redemption.
One captivating aspect of A Good Person relates to the elaborate train set that absorbs a great deal of Daniel’s time. Building tiny worlds like this is largely a hobby of the past (alongside such other once-popular avocations like stamp and coin collecting) but it’s fascinating to get a glimpse into how sophisticated such setups could be. Although Braff uses this as a metaphor for control, it’s more arresting in its concrete form.
Although narrative aspects of A Good Person occasionally veer into areas that are either cliched or artificial, many individual scenes are effective (at times powerful). Braff has a gift for dialogue (something that endeared his debut, Garden State, to many viewers) and having his words delivered by two gifted actors elevates character interaction. Had the movie entered theaters in the October-November time period, performances like those of Pugh and Freeman (and possibly Celeste O’Connor) might have had the “Oscar-worthy” characterization appended to their names. As a March release, however, they will be long forgotten by December. That doesn’t diminish their capacity to affect an emotional response or their strength in dramatizing the rigors of addiction.
Good Person, A (United States, 2023)
Cast: Florence Pugh, Morgan Freeman, Celeste O’Connor, Molly Shannon, Chinaza Uche
Home Release Date: 2023-05-30
Screenplay: Zach Braff
Cinematography: Mauro Fiore
Music: Bryce Dessner
U.S. Distributor: MGM
U.S. Home Release Date: 2023-05-30
MPAA Rating: "R" (Profanity, Sexual Content, Drugs Use/Addiction)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1