A Good Person (2023)

“No. No, It isn’t. trust me. I know how hard it is to get here. It’s damn near impossible, and you did it. Don’t run away now because of me.”

Grief isn’t linear, there’s no rhyme or reason behind it nor can its arrival be anticipated or planned out in advance. It hits each of us differently, internally and externally, and at different times in the aftermath of a tragedy. Some experience grief immediately preceding a tragedy while others may feel the effects of grief years later spontaneously. As one of the more powerful emotions, grief doesn’t come with instructions on how to cope – life just moves on however, the intrigue of different mechanisms like drugs and alcohol make grief a bit easier to handle, just getting through the day without having a breakdown or repressing a particular excruciating memory.

At the center of the writer director Zach Braff’s A Good Person, grief becomes the catalyst that pushes the story forward. For the 129 minutes that we’re with these characters, grief consumes each person stemming from the same tragedy in different yet profound ways. No two characters experiences grief the same – it takes hard work, tough conversations, change and a willingness to come to terms with the pain and suffering which resonates off the screen. We all feel grief in our lifetimes, during the quiet moments of tranquility and peace about past mistakes. Some can overcome them easier than others without resorting to unhealthy and damaging vices.

But some can’t, they don’t believe they have the strength to overcome their demons.

A Good Person follows main character Allison (Florence Pugh), set to be married to fiancé Nathan (Chinaza Uche). After a fatal accident that kills Nathan’s sister Molly (Nichelle Hines), Allison struggles with addiction to OxyContin and other substances to cope with the pain. Allison’s would be father-in-law Daniel (Morgan Freeman), another addict, blames her for the loss while also becoming guardian to Ryan (Celeste O’Connor), Molly’s only child, reluctantly.

Within A Good Person, several familial themes exist that we all can relate to. Joining grief are themes of forgiveness, acceptance and courage that Braff assigns to all characters, not just Allison. Though she was responsible for the fatal car accident that begins the film, it’s her journey back to humanity that we are able to get behind due to Florence Pugh’s raw and honest performance. Even when her character is facing a crippling personal crisis, Pugh’s talent for displaying the range of emotion of experiencing grief is unparalleled.

Like the title suggests, people aren’t perfect, even the self-proclaimed good ones. That’s what makes us all human, we make mistakes and learn from them. But it’s how we adapt to the situation that Braff explores. People who are hurt externalize their pain, sometimes projecting their hurt onto others which in turn causes more harm to be done than healing. Allison, Daniel and Ryan being the focus of this character studied grief struggle to move forward. Words get said that trigger buried feelings, actions get taken that can’t be undone but regardless, the effort is there. Despite all the wrongdoing, these are three good people, damaged but good. Their actions don’t define who they are deep down.

Consider this, about halfway through Daniel opens up in an AA meeting that both he and Allison attend regularly. Both have found each other through this healing process and attempt to cope in healthier ways. At this meeting, Daniel, who is 10 years sober from alcoholism opens up about raising his kids. It’s a deeply disturbing story given what is revealed but no matter the ugliness of the actions and the lasting scars that are worn, people change when they seek the help themselves. Daniel may be a recovering alcoholic, but he’ll never stop seeking forgiveness.

And its a point Braff makes to show each characters duality of good and bad. It keeps the hope alive – offering a light at the end of a very dark tunnel. No one is beyond help, not Allison who wants to commit to getting better and kick her destructive habits or Daniel who whenever things get stressful in raising Ryan, takes out a bottle of liquor and contemplates relapsing.

Morgan Freeman alongside Florence Pugh trade moments of sobriety with their characters. Both lift the story up, bringing nuance to their roles despite a basic and trope filled narrative. Majority of the 2-hour runtime, which could have been shaved down toward the end, Pugh and Freeman are together, just talking, opening old wounds, working through tough times and being each other’s support system. At times, these moments will pull on the heartstrings and others are more cliché, having its point start out being eluded to and still getting a full explanation as if we couldn’t put the pieces to the puzzle together ourselves.

As someone who has experience with an addict, where I identify the most within A Good Person is with Ryan. Losing both parents is unimaginable and she has every right to lash out, be angry and feel hopeless to the fact that no one understands but Daniel being her guardian and a former addict, understanding the relationship is just the beginning. His reasons for taking guardianship over his granddaughter are commendable however, It’s a volatile and frustrating relationship filled with peaks and valleys. But it’s the age difference and disconnect of generations between Freeman and O’Conner that adds some levity to a more depressing subject matter. Moments that desperately break up the film so it’s not just downhill for the entirety of 2 hours.

A Good Person is a carefully crafted journey of healing as an individual and simultaneously as a group. We all experience grief and tragedy, no one person is above those feelings. Pugh, Freeman, and O’Connor take a lackluster screenplay and make the journey worthwhile with endearing performances that will play off the emotions of whoever is struggling with or healing from a tragedy.

Screenplay By: Zach Braff

Directed By: Zach Braff

Music By: Bryce Dessner

Cinematography: Mauro Fiore

Starring: Florence Pugh, Molly Shannon, Morgan Freeman, Celeste O’Connor, Chinaza Uche

Edited By: Dan Schalk

Release Date: March 24, 2023

Running Time: 2 Hours 9 Minutes

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 53%

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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