With fantastic performances, this drama tells a deeply affecting story about loss and grief that still manages to find hope and joy without coming across as saccharine.
The film opens with Allison and Nathan played by Florence Pugh and Chinaza Uche. They are happily engaged and couldn’t be more in love if they tried. The film wisely gives us time with them together to see their relationship and their happiness. Because that happiness is stripped away when Allison is in a car accident with Nathan’s sister and brother in law. Sadly Allison is the only one to survive the accident. A year later Allison is addicted to prescription pain killers and Nathan is out of her life. The film follows Allison’s journey to come to terms with her own grief and overcome her addictions.
Florence Pugh is an actor who is in a league above the rest. She is so naturalistic and real in every moment. Whether she’s a super hero or a suffering addict, she infuses every moment with authenticity and nuance. She fills each scene with subtle gestures and inflections that feel so true to life. She is amazing. Her first AA meeting in which she tells her story is a powerhouse performance. It’s the kind of performance that any actor wishes they could give.
She’s matched by Morgan Freeman who at 85 is just as powerful as ever. It’s a strong performance. He matches Pugh moment for moment with authenticity and subtlety. His character has a lifetime to draw on, and Freeman shows us a man who is drawing on those years of experience in every word he speaks. It’s a performance tinged with regret and sadness but also with joy and hope.
The film is the kind of movie that centers the actors and the performances. Each scene is an actual scene. Which sadly is high praise these days. Characters come together and challenge each other. They share ideas. They come to emotional revelations. It’s a movie about people and the human experience. Its special effects are actors faces. The director Zach Braff allows his performers to dictate the shape of the scenes. He lets the actors create the mood and atmosphere. The rhythms of the performers create the scenes. It’s fun to watch good acting filmed by a director who recognizes good acting.
I was resistant to this movie before walking into the theater. I braced myself for a grueling addiction drama. I worried it would be a sugary sweet preachy after school special about a family coming together. I hadn’t heard much in the way of reviews, so I wasn’t expecting too much. But I was happily surprised. The movie is dark and gritty when it needs to be. The addiction story and the grieving family elements carry the weight and pain that they need to, but it never collapses under the weight of the subject matter. These people find moments of buoyancy and happiness in the pain. The story finds ways to be entertaining in this subject matter. Some of these movies are pretty one note in their despair and beat the audience over the head with that one note. A Good Person avoids that. It take us on a journey with these characters shows us the light and dark, and we go on an emotional and cathartic odyssey with them.
I have a lot to praise the performances, the direction, the way it deftly threads the tonal needle, but it has its flaws. It veers to far into melodrama at the end with the introduction of a gun in one scene that feels ripped from a worse movie. The resolution of Allison’s addictions is too easily swept away in a montage. I hate montages like this. It just cheapened her journey with an easy musical montage scene to me. It made the ending of the film too easy. I wanted them to earn their conclusion more. It also has some jagged edges and some bumpy moments in the overall narrative that made the journey feel uneven. Subplots involving Nathan’s niece, Allison’s mom, and Nathan’s new girlfriend just sort elbowed their way into the film and jostled the overall narrative.
It’s the kind of small movie that I want to see more of. Its competition in theaters right now is the 4th film in an action franchise and a video game adaptation aimed at children. This is a movie with actual characters and real scenes between actors. Sadly I think I know which movies are going to win this box office contest, but I’ll gladly watch this any day of the week over another John Wick head shot parade or a Mario Brothers cash grab.
It’s a flawed film, but it is worth seeking out. This is a strong and powerful movie that has so much going for it. I love the journey I went on with these characters, and I would absolutely watch it again.
It’s my cup of tea. A-