A film about addiction, guilt, and forgiveness, the well-intentioned but predictable drama A Good Person, written and directed by Zach Braff, is rescued by Florence Pugh’s stunning performance.
Allison is a vivacious, likable woman (we know this because she sings and plays piano at her own engagement party, and no one seems to find it self-indulgent), whose life is irrevocably altered by a car accident that murders Nathan’s sister and her husband.
Nathan and Allison are no longer together a year later, and Allison has developed an addiction to the OxyContin medications she was prescribed after the accident. She lives with her mother (Molly Shannon), has no job, and no future until she enters an addicts anonymous meeting and meets Nathan’s father, Daniel (Morgan Freeman), who is coping with his own grief and ghosts.
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Their unlikely, awkward, and hesitant friendship is the heart of the film, and Pugh and Freeman share some of the finest scenes. However, the actress is also a powerhouse in sequences where she is alone, as Allison repeatedly reaches rock bottom.
Of course, numerous films have dealt with the subject of addiction and recovery, including Bright Lights, Big City, Requiem for a Dream, and 28 Days to Cake (a 2014 Jennifer Aniston film that is worth seeking out), and you could argue that each of them did it better.
Those films avoid certain pitfalls that Braff falls victim to, such as a twee recuperation montage (oh, Allison’s playing the piano again! She is cured!) and the superfluous addition of Daniel’s repulsive adolescent granddaughter Ryan to the proceedings.
But while Braff gets those elements wrong – especially Ryan, who is such a collection of teen stereotypes that you don’t feel sorry for her despite the fact that the car accident left her an orphan – and fumbles the pacing with a lengthy prologue that doesn’t introduce characters and relationships clearly, he gets two things right.
First, there are the believable addiction sequences – Allison’s increasing reliance on prescription pills is, like the excellent television series Dopesick, both a convincing and damning indictment of the spiraling opioid epidemic in the United States today.
Second is, of course, the selection of Pugh. The star of Midsommar and Don’t Worry Darling (the latter being another film where she was the best reason to seek it out) is in fine form in every scene of A Good Person, and her heartfelt portrayal of the hurt, angry, and lost Allison searching for redemption is reason enough to give this uneven film a chance.