Pugh & Freeman Are Excellent In Braff’s Poignant Drama

Mar 22, 2023

Redemption, guilt, and grief are themes often explored in films. But they aren’t always handled effectively. A Good Person, written and directed by Zach Braff, leans into its themes and sits in them long enough so that its characters’ journeys aren’t short-changed for an easy, neat ending. Braff assembles a fabulous cast, led by Florence Pugh and Morgan Freeman, which lends the film proper gravitas. Although it sometimes feels like a first or second film with certain choices and edits, A Good Person is an altogether poignant, emotional and thoughtful drama.

Allison (Pugh) is happily engaged to Nathan (Chinaza Uche), and they’re looking forward to the wedding. Things take a tragic turn, however, when Allie, and Nathan’s sister and brother-in-law are in a car accident that kills the latter. Allie was the driver at the time of the accident, and she can’t move past it despite Nathan wanting to be there for her. A year later, Allie is struggling and is now addicted to oxycontin. When she begins to attend AA meetings, Allie runs into Daniel (Freeman), Nathan’s estranged father who is also having a rough time caring for granddaughter Ryan (Celeste O’Connor) and is grieving the loss of his daughter, contemplating a return to drinking despite his long road to sobriety. Allie and Daniel have a rocky relationship, but they are more alike than they think.

Related: Florence Pugh & Morgan Freeman Cope With Grief In A Good Person Trailer

Florence Pugh and Morgan Freeman in A Good Person

A Good Person takes its time fleshing out the characters, their dynamics, the way they were each traumatized by the accident, and how they are coping in the aftermath. Though the final scenes are a bit rushed to get to the heartbreaking, yet hopeful conclusion, Braff understands that it’s the journey that is crucial. It would have been easy to turn the story into an emotionally manipulative one, but A Good Person delves into Allie and Daniel’s feelings, unafraid to explore the parts of them they neglect to see or contend with. For Allie, that’s the avoidance of shouldering the blame for the accident; for Daniel, it’s trying to do right by his granddaughter in a bid to prove he’s changed.

They are two sides of the same coin, especially in that they firmly believe they are good people regardless of their actions. To that end, A Good Person gets to the heart of each of their conflicts without forcing it. The film is quite emotional, and it’s hard to watch Allie and Daniel struggle. What’s pertinent here is that they aren’t particularly asking for redemption, but it is apparent in everything they do. They want someone to tell them it’s alright without any self-reflection, and this is especially true of Allie. It’s only through her friendship with Daniel that she can acknowledge the truth and move forward. Braff ultimately crafts a gentle, thoughtful meditation on guilt, redemption, and forgiveness. The film’s conclusion doesn’t tie everything up neatly, but it does offer some hope through the darkness.

Celeste O’Connor and Florence Pugh in A Good Person

A Good Person is a tear-jerker, and the emotion wells up naturally. Watching these characters struggle and attempt to make it out the other side is emotional enough, and it’s all the more effective thanks to Pugh and Freeman’s performances. Pugh is always good, and she really gives her all to Allie, who is a mess and would rather be numb than feel anything at all. Pugh conveys Allie’s struggle with tenderness, and an understanding that this person is hurting and feels she deserves to feel that way. A wavering voice, hunched shoulders, and an uncertainty that lingers in Pugh’s eyes perfectly encapsulates this character and her journey.

A Good Person is one of Freeman’s best roles in a long time. The actor straddles the line between kindness and anger, testing the limits of his patience. Freeman conveys Daniel’s exhaustion and handles his feelings delicately through body language and cadence. Celeste O’Connor is an actress to keep an eye out for, and she shifts easily between grief, anger, annoyance, and joy. Chinaza Uche and Molly Shannon, who plays Allie’s mother, get less to do within the narrative, but their talent shines through nonetheless, and Uche especially does a lot with a little, showing all of Nathan’s emotions through his expressive eyes.

The film isn’t without some contrivances, and there is one key scene that lacks the tension needed to fully land, but it does what it needs to do in the end. There are also certain choices, such as the use of a blurry background that brings focus to an actor while another in the same scene doesn’t get the same treatment, that are questionable and don’t necessarily enhance the moment. A Good Person is littered with instances that make clear Braff is still trying to find his voice as a filmmaker, and certain characters could have been focused on more regarding their grief. However, the result is a story that exudes heartbreak, empathy, and an engaging exploration of two messy people who have made mistakes and hurt people. It’s a tender drama and one that focuses on its characters in interesting, thoughtful ways.

More: The Young Wife Review: Tayarisha Poe Crafts Intimate Story With Visual Flair [SXSW]

A Good Person is in select theaters Friday, March 24 and everywhere March 31. The film is 129 minutes long and rated R for drug abuse, language throughout and some sexual references.

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