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A Good Person (2023)

The always-dependable Florence Pugh and Morgan Freeman try their best to elevate a story of grief, guilt, and addiction in writer/director Zach Braff’s uneven drama.
Our Rating

Genre(s): Drama

Director: Zach Braff

Actors: Florence Pugh, Morgan Freeman, Molly Shannon, Alex Wolff, Chinaza Uche, Celeste O'Connor

Year: 2023

MPAA Rating: R

Country: USA

Allison (Florence Pugh) is a young woman who has it all. We meet her at her own engagement party, full of adoring multi-cultural friends who cheer her as she sings a song at the piano for her adoring fiancé Nathan (Chinaza Uche). She and Nathan are sweet and cute together, they seem successful at whatever it is that they do, and they are looking forward to their life together. That is until Allison gets in a car accident that kills her future sister- and brother-in-law.

Flash forward a year and Allison is back home with her mom (Molly Shannon) with no Nathan in sight, and is hooked on oxycodone. She doesn’t seem to do anything except loaf on the couch in the living room with curtains drawn, flinching like a vampire when her mom comes home from work and tries to let some light in the room. If it is still unclear, Allison’s downward trajectory in life is quickly established by the well-worn movie clichés: You know that a woman was on top of the world when they performed cutesy, impromptu jigs in their lacy underwear for their adoring man, and likewise you know they have now hit rock bottom when they find themselves single and chop off their own hair at the sink with scissors. So, yes, Allison has hit rock bottom.

After a year of taking oxy, and desperate that her doctor won’t give her a refill, Allison finally admits she has a problem. But she runs smack into a bigger problem when she goes to her first AA/NA meeting: She runs into Nathan’s father Daniel (Morgan Freeman). Their mutual recognition causes them both to recoil, but Daniel points out they probably crossed paths for a reason.

A Good Person comes off as a quiet drama of two very hurt and damaged people trying to find a mutual solace in their shared grief. Pugh and Freeman are two professionals that can make even the most iffy content sound good, so my hesitation in appreciating this film is not by any means because of their performances. They are an unlikely duo, and the connection between the two characters seems completely palpable as he shares his lifetime of struggles with someone who is in the depths of her own despair and addition.

But though it tries to be a grief drama, it also wants to keep reminding us that it is also an addiction drama. And honestly it does neither particularly well.

The story seems to lurch around, trying to check off a few dramatic journey points (with some awkwardly inserted comedic moments) to arrive at a not at all surprising conclusion. Like Allison’s addiction has a few requisite scenes, like pouring pills down the toilet, or sweating from withdrawal in bed, but honestly on film she seems to be doing not too bad. More energy is put into the family drama than in the fact that she has a severe problem that could easily kill her. Plus, Allison is little more than a present-day character–we know she once had a loving fiancé who is out of the picture, and now lives in a sort of stifling home life with her mom. Like there is an intriguing moment where she goes to meet an ex-co-worker from her previous life working in pharmaceutical marketing and talks to her in circles trying to score some oxy samples. This could have (and should have) been HUGE in the development of Allison’s character, but it gets absolutely no traction and is quickly forgotten.

The one scene that hints at a much more interesting film happens early on: Allison goes to a dark and depressing dive bar in the middle of the day. She quickly downs some shots, and to her dismay–then interest–she realizes that the losers at the other side of the bar (Alex Wolff and Brian Rojas) went to high school with her. There is a prickly tension on both sides at the recognition; she was popular and they were outcasts. But they are both fully aware that the tables are turned when she now sees an opportunity for scoring drugs. The scene is weird and electric, and strangely you find out more about Allison’s previous life in these few minutes than in the rest of the film. The moment feels like it could tip dangerously over the edge with one nudge. But Allison’s trajectory doesn’t get that push after all, I suppose because she is A Good Person. Not sure what message that sends about addicts who maybe aren’t as “good” as Allison, but the film never attempts to answer that or most other questions.

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