A Good Person

Allison (Florence Pugh) has been embraced by her fiancé Nathan’s (Chinaza Uche, "How to Rob") family, his sister Molly (Nichelle Hines) thinking she’s the best thing that ever happened to him.  But when Allison gets into a horrible accident on the way to try on wedding gowns – with Molly and her husband in the car – she survives but they do not.  Unable to deal with her grief, Allison leaves her supportive fiancé and becomes addicted to opioids, but running into her would-be father-in-law Daniel (Morgan Freeman) at an AA meeting will pull her back from the brink in “A Good Person.”

Laura's Review: B

Writer/director Zach Braff ("Garden State," "Wish I Was Here") has created a role for his ex to really sink her teeth into and Pugh has delivered for him in spades, the actress traversing an arc from charismatic singer/songwriter to self-punishing addict to tentative friend and mentor.  The filmmaker has returned to his Jersey home turf, but this time he thankfully keeps the quirk at bay, his only concession to childlike wonder the model train recreation of South Orange Daniel has built in his basement.  Despite a number of character choices which defy credibility, “A Good Person” is an honest portrayal of grief, addiction, forgiveness and accepting personal responsibility and Braff’s best film to date.

The Allie we first meet is singing a song to Nathan from behind a piano in a crowded room.  It is their engagement party, everyone is happy and Allie looks lovely.  She charmingly protests an encore, proclaiming to be ‘a little too drunk’ to be performing, a red flag planted in our minds.  The bandaged victim we soon reconnect with in a hospital room has her mom Diane (Molly Shannon) by her side and a burdened Nathan at the end of her bed when two police officers enter requesting a blood sample, thereby breaking the news she was being shielded from.  The next time we see Allie, it is a year later, she’s disheveled and demanding pills from Diane who is adamantly refusing to give them to her.  Allie rides off on her bike on an odyssey that will find her lying to her pharmacist, hitting up an old pal who works for Purdue and finally falling in with two old high school townie bar flies Mark (Alex Wolff) and Diego (Brian Rojas) who humiliate her for a hit off their crack pipe. 

When Allie approaches an AA meeting, the first person she sees is Daniel, a former Newark cop and alcoholic estranged from her former fiancé.  She tries to leave, continually, but Daniel, recognizing what it takes to seek help from his own experience, gently insists she stay.  Allie attains a sponsor in group leader Simone (Zoe Lister-Jones) and develops a tentative friendship with Daniel, who invites her over to see his recreation of their home town.  But the air grows thick with conflict when the teenaged orphaned granddaughter Ryan (Celeste O'Connor, "Ghostbusters: Afterlife") he’s now caring for arrives home early from school and realizes who she is.

Braff has created a family damaged both from the inside out and the outside in, then found a compelling way for the two perpetrators to join together to heal it, albeit with some significant bumps along the way.  Daniel’s been having trouble relating to Ryan, who is acting out her own grief with fights at school and sex with the much older Quinn (Ignacio Diaz-Silverio), but Allie, closer in age, manages to forge a connection.  This is all very believable, but Braff also would have us accept Ryan would try to ‘help’ by showing Allie pictures of Nathan with his new girlfriend, then secretly invite them to join the women at a club.  When things go badly awry with that plan, we must also believe Simone, an AA sponsor, would drive into the city on a rescue mission with Daniel as a passenger chugging from a whiskey bottle.  Daniel doesn’t want Allie involved with Ryan, then does, then does not.  Diane, who has her own substance issues, is adamant keeping her daughter from oxy, then goes out of her way to enable her.  Some messiness in life is understandable, but all this vacillating is too much of a stretch.

Still, Braff has made an emotionally affecting film with a great cast of veterans and discoveries, like O’Connor, alike.  Production designer Merissa Lombardo defines suburban New Jersey with well lived in homes, soccer fields and seedy corner bars with cinematographer Mauro Fiore ("Spider-Man: No Way Home") plunging us into both car accidents and the imagined world of Daniel’s train encircled town.  “A Good Person” may demand a tissue, but it earns it, leaving us with a hopeful tableaux.

MGM/UA releases "A Good Person" in theaters on 3/24/23.