Pugh’s a Terrific Addict but Melodramatic A Good Person Frustratingly Still Disappoints
Allison (Florence Pugh) has the world in the palm of her hand. She has a promising career as a pharmaceutical representative and is engaged to marry the love of her life Nathan (Chinaza Uche). Her mother Diane (Molly Shannon) dotes on her. She has a plethora of close friends who think she’s nothing less than wonderful. But everything changes in the blink of an eye when the car Allison was driving is involved in a terrifying accident that kills Nathan’s sister and her husband, leaving his teenage niece Ryan (Celeste O’Connor) an orphan.
Fast-forward to a year later. Allison and Nathan are no longer engaged. Ryan is living with her grandfather, ex-cop and avid miniature train enthusiast Daniel (Morgan Freeman). Allison has lost her job, has been forced to move back in with Diane, and is hopelessly addicted to opioid painkillers. The bottom has completely fallen out of the young woman’s life, and she’s clueless as to how to go about building a new foundation to try and balance upon.
Writer-director Zach Braff’s A Good Person is a fairly standard addiction melodrama that does precious little new or unexpected. It also features a pair of performances from Pugh and Freeman which border on extraordinary. Any life this film has is entirely due to them. Likewise the emotional weight it manufactures. While everyone in the picture is good, Pugh and Freeman are nothing less than stunning, and because of the duo, Braff’s latest comes remarkably close to being worth the price of a matinee ticket.
But only almost. There are issues, not the least of which is that this tale frequently becomes more of a “white redemption” piece instead of a nuanced narrative involving two broken individuals learning to forgive both themselves and each other as they also battle addictive personalities threatening to derail any hope of a happy future. Daniel, and to a lesser Ryan, start to embody certain cinematic tropes and stereotypes that should have been buried for good ages ago.
Pity, because there are several strong moments and sequences that had my eyes glued to the screen and tears filling the corners of my eyes. A scene where Allison and Daniel see one another for the first time in almost a year when the former stumbles into an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting desperately seeking some help only to see the latter already there is surprisingly powerful. Another later on when she encounters Ryan and has no clue what to say to or how to act around the teenager is an overpowering punch in the gut.
It should also be noted that Braff hasn’t lost his visual touch. Much like with Garden State and Wish I Was Here, the actor-turned-director knows how to move his camera. Braff and vaunted cinematographer Mauro Fiore (Avatar) delicately craft naturalistically mesmeric images. The aesthetic they create is dreamlike yet journalistically precise, allowing for the generation of an empathetically dynamic intimacy that’s oftentimes haunting.
I just can’t get over the picture’s climactic third. It isn’t the familiarity of what transpires, even great addiction dramas like The Lost Weekend, The Days of Wine and Roses, The Man with the Golden Arm, Clean & Sober, and 28 Days can only play variations on a similar theme as far as their central components are concerned, it’s the direction Braff takes his characters that’s so gosh darn insulting. There is nothing honest about the climax. Nothing pure. Nothing that doesn’t feel cloying, gimmicky, and inelegantly manufactured.
Thankfully, Pugh remains inarguably one of the finest actors of her generation. As awful as some elements of Braff’s script may be, her performance continually remains a thing of phenomenal beauty. She shreds Allison down to the bone. This is a nakedly raw tour de force, and Pugh’s sweaty physicality and jittery line readings are astonishing. She and Freeman share a truthfully anarchic chemistry that fits their characters to perfection, and even when Braff’s sometimes cringy dialogue threatens to derail the whole enterprise, the pair frequently find a way to get the film back on track with effortless grace and impressive ease.
It’s all for naught. I like happy endings as much as the next person. I’m all for intense dramas dealing in tough, uncomforting subject matter to offer up hope and the opportunity for redemption for the characters going through such demoralizing ordeals. But A Good Person adds schmaltz where it does not belong, and instead of observational distance that could further humanize the events Allison and the others are confronting, Braff forces ghastly treacle down the viewer’s throat. It left a bitter taste in my mouth, and sadly I don’t think that rancid aftertaste is going to dissipate anytime soon.
Film Rating: 2 (out of 4)