Overcome with grief stemming from a fatal accident that killed two members of her fiance's family, Allison spends her days imprisoned by an all-consuming opioid addiction. Separated from her fiance Nathan and searching for a path forward, she begins to venture down the road of recovery when forming an unlikely friendship with Nathan's estranged father, Daniel, in the stirring drama A Good Person.
A Good Person is the latest passion project from writer/director Zach Braff. The Scrubs star made waves with his 2004 feature debut Garden State. The Sundance Film Festival breakout became the symbol of a generation, with its reflective indie soundtrack and quirky depiction of coming-of-age struggles for twentysomethings generating a cultural footprint that few indie films can rival.
Like many overnight Hollywood ascensions, Braff quickly became a victim of his own success. An onslaught of post-release appraisals denounced many qualities that once made Garden State so beloved. What once felt charming and emotionally resonant quickly became maudlin and obnoxious to many. The sudden vitriol only worsened with Braff's follow-up feature, Wish I Was Here, which became the subject of unfair antagonism due to its origins as a Kickstarter-funded film before releasing to tepid responses.
I've always had a soft spot for Braff. Garden State resonated deeply with me as a youth, and while the film has its shortcomings, much of the criticism stems more from the internet's mob mentality and less from genuine qualms. Wish I Was Here also registered strong results from its exploration of a family man dealing with the impending death of his father. Braff's movies always boast warmth and sentimentality in their unique comedy/drama approach to everyday human struggles.
A Good Person is a natural extension of Braff's sensibilities. The film defines a poignant portrait of trauma and grief that reckons with its subject matter in emotionally affecting ways.
It is easy to see how A Good Person's material could be combustible in the wrong hands. Several films have attempted ruminations on substance abuse as a sedating coping mechanism before reducing their meditations into a hand-holding after-school special. Thankfully, Braff always steers his film toward genuine truths.
Through the film's dual focus on Allison and Daniel, A Good Person takes a comprehensive approach to its shards of broken people left behind in the wake of tragedy. While Allison is embedded in the daily spiral of her opioid dependence, Daniel is years removed from his alcohol addiction. However, his past demons begin to resurface as he struggles with his new paternal role for his granddaughter Ryan in the wake of his daughter's death.
Both characters' internal afflictions receive nuanced exploration through the expressive performance work. Florence Pugh is one of the industry's best emerging talents, sinking into Allison's dark descent with raw authenticity. She commands the screen with undeniable gravitas and allows the character's varied emotional swings never to land a false emotional note. Few actors are as celebrated as Morgan Freeman, but his performance here stands out as some of his best work in years. As Daniel, Freeman displays poise and vulnerability as he reckons with the character's unavoidable pains through his singular screen presence.
Pugh and Freeman work brilliantly in tandem with Braff's screenplay to draw compelling results. At its best, A Good Person strikes impactful chords as an honest reflection on grief transforming into a paralyzing cloud of depressive thoughts and self-destructive behaviors. Thankfully, these somber reflections are balanced by a streak of hope peaking out from the corner. Braff deftly infuses well-timed comedic moments and his trademark optimism for overcoming struggles through human connections as meaningful tools for creating a well-rounded character piece.
Braff also delivers his distinctive voice behind the director's chair. He and Cinematographer Mauro Fiore effectively utilize intimate framing choices to accentuate the personal toils facing our central characters. In addition, Braff remains adept at finding ways to enhance insular steaks without ever overworking his material with ineffective infusions, whether through deft stylistic inclusions or his signature ability to pair the perfect song during a critical moment.
Even as a Braff fan, I admit that A Good Person still highlights some of his shortcomings as a filmmaker. For example, some of the grander dramatic moments come off as too simplistic in their attempts to ring crowd-pleasing conclusions to complex dilemmas, while other subplots end up feeling undercooked due to the film's busy narrative. The characters of Nathan and Ryan suffer the most from this flaw. Despite skilled performances from Chianza Uche and Celeste O'Connor, neither character receives the dimension needed to award them proper dramatic agency in their arcs.
Misgivings aside, A Good Person's empathetic and sincere storytelling rings true where it matters most. I commend Braff for sticking to his brand of open-hearted storytelling and believe the film will leave a powerful punch for audiences looking for a break from big-budget spectacles.
A Good Person is now playing in theaters.