"A Good Person" Review
For both good and bad reasons, Zach Braff’s A Good Person proudly wears its heart on its sleeve, which is about the size of The Grinch’s when it grew three sizes that eventful day. It’s Braff’s first writing and directing credit since 2013’s Wish I Was Here, which didn’t make quite the same splash as his 2004 debut Garden State. The acoustic/folksy soundtrack and big emotional moments have been lifted from the past and into the present with A Good Person, with Braff staying behind the camera in favor of allowing Florence Pugh and Morgan Freeman (reunited with Braff after Going in Style in 2017) to chew the scenery, and then some.
Braff sadly found the inspiration to write A Good Person during the pandemic. He went through a series of tragic moments, losing close friends and family, some specifically to COVID-19. His pent-up grief and anger manifested themselves onto the page in the form of a young woman who has to pick herself back up after an unimaginable loss.
Pugh plays that woman, Allison, who is very soon to be married to Nathan (Chinaza Uche). On her way to try on wedding dresses with her soon-to-be sister-in-law and her husband, Allison is involved in a fatal car accident, with her being the only survivor. The guilt sends her down a dark path filled with pills and alcohol, with her relationship with Nathan also coming to an end. There is some light at the end of the tunnel as Allison seeks help for her problems at AA meetings, where she runs into Nathan’s father Daniel (Morgan Freeman, actually given something to do outside of bad B-movies). The only way forward for these two lost souls is to face their fears together, which promises to bring about complicated feelings of regret and loss.
Braff may not wallow in the pivotal car accident, but he sure does pound the keys during the aftermath. The first third almost surpasses Darren Aronofksy-levels of melodrama as Allison goes through the clichéd stages of grief. Braff doesn't have Aronofsky's theatrical flair though, with his attempt to keep things grounded only making it soapier. The cutesy song choices and mismatched comedy doesn’t help either, with the tone never finding a consistent throughline.
Things do get better as time goes on, both for the characters and Braff’s capabilities as a storyteller. The beats begin to be less predictable and the pace lets the actors breathe in the moment. Pugh and Freeman are fantastic in the quiet scenes they share together, breaking down their complicated relationship and building it back up again with honest conversations.
But just as the story and performers are reaching their peak, Braff sends them back down the ski hill with some over-the-top scenes that further push the already strained boundaries of authenticity. Pugh and Freeman handle it fine, but it feels like a waste to saddle two generational talents with some of the most well-worn material known to the cinematic medium.