Film Review – Florence Pugh Delivers an Immersive Performance in Zach Braff’s ‘A Good Person’ 

Film Review – Florence Pugh Delivers an Immersive Performance in Zach Braff’s ‘A Good Person’ 
A Good Person. Courtesy

Grief comes in many different forms, and it’s not always easy to predict when and how it will manifest. It can also be complicated by the circumstances causing it and the way in which someone’s typical support system no longer exists in the face of a devastating loss. Understanding the impact and weight of grief requires some knowledge of what came before and how a person has changed, and Zach Braff’s latest film, A Good Person, gives its audience a brief window into the past as it delves into its protagonist’s numb present.

Allison (Florence Pugh) is happily engaged to Nathan (Chinaza Uche), but everything comes crashing down when Nathan’s sister and brother-in-law are killed in a car accident while she is driving. One year later, Allison is addicted to oxycontin and struggling to get by with the support of her mother Diane (Molly Shannon). Nathan’s father Daniel (Morgan Freeman) is raising his orphaned granddaughter Ryan (Celeste O’Connor) and having a tough time relating to the troublesome teenager. Though Allison and Nathan have long since separated, Allison is drawn back to the family when she ends up in the same twelve-step program as Daniel.

Florence Pugh (left) as Allison and Morgan Freeman (right) as Daniel in A GOOD PERSON, directed by Zach Braff, a Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures film. Credit: Jeong Park / Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures

A Good Person marks Braff’s fourth directorial effort and the second in which he does not appear as an actor. There are echoes of his first two films, Garden State and Wish I Was Here, in his storytelling style, which does involve the incorporation of comedic elements into an otherwise strikingly serious story. There are moments in which it’s not clear whether audiences are meant to laugh since everything surrounding them is dramatic and unpleasant, but that’s part of what makes his scripts accessible, inviting those watching to become comfortable with people who can’t be sad all the time and instead find meager ways to entertain themselves even in the worst possible situations.

Pugh is a terrific actress who has demonstrated enormous range in her relatively short career. Following last year’s Don’t Worry Darling and The Wonder, Pugh takes on a role that feels less weighty at first but clearly involves even more emotional depth as she endures great pain and attempts to get control of a life that is now dominated by prescription drugs, loneliness, and self-loathing. It’s a marvelously lived-in performance, one that finds Pugh committing completely and putting up walls that slowly begin to come down as she opens up to the most unexpected person of all: the daughter of the couple who died as a result of her actions behind the wheel.

Celeste O’Connor (left) as Ryan and Florence Pugh (right) as Allison in A GOOD PERSON, directed by Zach Braff, a Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures film. Credit: Jeong Park / Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures

Freeman, who appeared in Braff’s previous film, Going in Style, is eighty-five years old and still choosing worthwhile parts. Daniel is a gruff personality who has a dark past of alcoholism and abuse but presents a friendlier front in his old age, fiercely protective of Ryan but not always going about it in the best way.

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Rounding out the main cast, O’Connor is superb, imbuing Ryan with plenty of personality and anger, shaped by life’s events and determined to get back at the world for what has happened to her. Her scenes with Pugh are particularly compelling.

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As its main character navigates feeling aimless, this film also gets off to a slow start. But as it continues over the course of its two hour and nine-minute runtime, it gradually becomes more interesting and engaging.

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Pugh’s performance anchors it deeply enough that it should prove accessible to all audiences. Braff’s imprint or stylistic choices don’t feel as distinct as in his directorial debut nearly two decades ago, but this film does feel lived-in and poignant, digging below surface level to extract a memorable meditation on what it means to lose someone or something and to find a way to continue living.

Grade: B

A Good Person opens in theaters on Friday, March 24th.

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