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‘A Good Person’ Review: Florence Pugh and Morgan Freeman Lift Zach Braff’s Labored Trauma Drama



The much-documented and discussed real-life romantic relationship between Zach Braff and Florence Pugh may not have lasted, but the writer-director has provided the actress a sterling opportunity to showcase her talents with his latest directorial effort. Pugh delivers a superb starring performance that serves to accentuate her growing artistic stature and co-star Morgan Freeman turns in his best work in years after appearing in far too many sub-par vehicles. Their efforts lift A Good Personwhich otherwise too often feels familiar in its themes and self-conscious in its melodramatic plot contrivances.

The story begins on the sort of absurdly happy note — accompanied by plaintive piano tinkling on the soundtrack — that instantly clues you in that it’s not going to last. We see the radiant Allison (Pugh) and her handsome fiancé Nathan (Chinaza Uche, Dickinson) joyfully celebrating at their engagement party, both of them clearly very much in love and looking forward to a happy future together.

A Good Person

The Bottom Line

Terrific performances help salvage a heavy-handed script.

Release date: Friday, March 24
Cast: Florence Pugh, Morgan Freeman, Molly Shannon, Chinaza Uche, Celeste O’Connor
Director-screenwriter: Zach Braff

2 hours 9 minutes

Alas, it’s not meant to be, as Allison, driving on the New Jersey Turnpike, glances at the navigation app on her phone for just a few seconds and winds up in a crash that leaves Nathan’s sister and her husband dead.

Cut to several years later, with a guilt-ridden Allison and Nathan no longer together and her returning to her New Jersey hometown to live with her mother (Molly Shannon, in another excellent dramatic supporting turn). Her promising musical career in tatters, Allison is now impoverished and hopelessly addicted to painkillers. Her desperation to score is shown in one of the film’s most authentic-feeling scenes, when she has a painfully awkward reunion at a bar with two former high-school classmates who don’t hesitate to mock her even while providing her with drugs.

Her life begins to change for the better when she meets Daniel (Freeman), her former fiancé’s father, who has taken in his teenage granddaughter Ryan (Celeste O’Connor, excellent), who was left orphaned by the accident. Their initial encounter, in which Allison attempts to apologize, doesn’t go well. But Daniel, an ex-cop and recovering alcoholic, recognizes a damaged soul when he sees one.

Not long after, when Allison impulsively walks into an AA meeting after hitting bottom and unexpectedly encounters him, she attempts to flee. But he runs after her urging her not to leave, and a fragile friendship begins to form. Ryan is initially much more hostile to Allison, but they too eventually form a connection based on a mutual need for emotional support and friendship.

Braff does a good job of establishing the characters and their complex relationships, but he gets carried away at times — particularly in a late plot development involving Allison and Ryan secretly traveling together to New York City, where the latter takes off with an older man and is eventually tracked down and retrieved by a gun-toting Daniel, who nearly loses his sobriety in the process. Indeed, there’s so much going on in the story — including Allison’s mother’s own addiction issues; Allison’s tortured reunion with Nathan, who has since become involved with another woman; and Nathan’s slow rapprochement with his father, from whom he had been estranged after a violent incident in his youth — that you begin to feel the story would have been better served by a mini-series.

The film also becomes labored in its attempts at poeticism, with an elaborate train set lovingly tended to by Daniel and featuring miniature figures too easily representing the need for control that he lacks in the real world.

For all its heavy-handedness, however, A Good Person (even the title screams “Significance!”) proves affecting at times, thanks largely to the precise work by the two lead performers. Pugh makes her character’s arc from a woman with everything to live for to suicidal depression believable in every respect, while Freeman cannily underplays his character’s torment as well as the decency that enables him to befriend the person who caused such ruin in his life.

Beautifully photographed in suitably autumnal fashion by DP Mauro Fiore in unglamorous New Jersey locations and effectively scored by Bryce Dessner of the rock band The National, the film, in any case, marks Braff’s most assured work since his award-winning Garden State nearly 20(!) years ago.

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