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'A Good Person' Review: Florence Pugh Shines in Yet Another Lousy Film

By Melanie Fischer | Film | March 28, 2023 |

By Melanie Fischer | Film | March 28, 2023 |


Six years since Going in Style, his last feature as a director, multi-hyphenate filmmaker Zach Braff is back with A Good Person, an exploration of grief and addiction that can’t decide if it wants to be grounded or melodramatic and ultimately fails to be either, or much of anything at all.

Florence Pugh stars as Allison, a woman in her mid-20s who seems to have life on a lock—adoring, successful fiancé, Nathan (Chinaza Uche​​); a passion for music well-matched by considerable talents; a well-paid job as a pharmaceutical sales rep (just psoriasis treatments, nothing too evil) to fatten up her savings account so she can perhaps pursue her artistic interests sometime in the future. But Allison’s picture-perfect life comes crashing down one fateful day when, en route to try on wedding dresses, she’s behind the wheel in an accident that kills sister-in-law-to-be Molly (Nichelle Hines) and husband Jesse (Toby Onwumere), leaving their young teenage daughter Ryan (Celeste O’Connor) orphaned.

Flash forward one year. Allison, wallowing in a destructive spiral of guilt and self-loathing, is now unemployed, single, living with her mother, and addicted to the OxyContin originally prescribed to her to manage her physical pain after the accident. A flash of inspiration leads her to an NA meeting, where she runs into none other than Daniel (Morgan Freeman), her former fiance’s estranged father — and the orphaned Ryan’s new guardian. An unlikely, fraught friendship is formed.

Judging a movie by its title can be a bit like judging a book by its cover, but sometimes the shoe does fit, and in this particular instance, the underwhelming mediocrity implied by such a generic title as A Good Person is, in fact, right on the money.

Pugh follows up Don’t Worry Darling with yet another stellar performance in a glob of a movie that hardly lives up to her talents, although this one does at least showcase them a bit better (including a rather impressive singing voice). How Allison’s character is handled is a highlight of the film, and Braff, if nothing else, does show growth here in terms of his female leads—Allison feels like a fully realized person in all the ways that poorly aged icon of manic pixie dream girl madness known as Sam, the female lead of Garden State, was not. Credit where credit is due.

When it comes to the social issue drama—the occasionally profound but far more often trite and tiring favorite problem child of Serious Artistes everywhere—there is perhaps one golden rule: connection is key. As in, does at least one key creative behind the project (the director, the writer, the author of the source material, if applicable) actually have a personal connection to the issues at hand? So often, this is a key difference between the standouts and the rest of the chaff. Why the Maid limited series is so much more compelling than untold multitudes of thematically similar stories about women struggling with poverty, single motherhood, and struggling to escape abusive relationships. Why The Last Black Man in San Francisco resonates so profoundly. Why so many other pieces of media, even with the best of intentions and backed by no small amount of research, have the appeal and insight of a PSA or an overly long “very special episode.”

Unfortunately, A Good Person is not one of these shining outliers. It’s not the worst of the worst either, just solidly in the middle of the slag heap. Like the vast, underwhelming majority of entries in this troubled genre, it’s a film that at once does too much and too little, alternating “hitting rock bottom” sequences that feel redundant and overly manipulative (a whole sequence involving Alex Wolff in a small role as a local burnout, for instance, feels like it could have easily been left on the cutting room floor) with other subplots that feel half-baked and rushed.

Then there is perhaps the most glaring problem with A Good Person, which has to do with the racial subtext—or, perhaps more accurately, the subtext that isn’t.

There is often something to be said for color-blind casting and casting people of color in roles originally imagined as white with little to no narrative changes. Indeed sometimes such an approach can work very well, as it did in Andrew Ahn’s Driveways, in which the mother and son played by Hong Chau and Lucas Jaye were originally written as white. I am choosing to assume here that a similar situation is what led to A Good Person, because if Daniel and his family were written to be Black from the beginning, the end result here is even more baffling.

The particular dynamics of this film, with Allison struggling to come to terms with being culpable in the accident that killed her two Black in-laws to-be and left a Black girl orphaned—largely through interactions with the surviving members of this family—is, in a word, fraught, even though the film chooses to act otherwise. The concept of weaponized white tears is one quite widely discussed in Black scholarship, but it is in particular words from Brittney Cooper from her stellar essay collection Eloquent Rage that ring through my head in every scene where Allison cries and is comforted by Daniel (or even more bizarrely, Ryan): “White lady tears might seem to not be a big deal, but they are actually quite dangerous […] The mythic nature of white female vulnerability compels protective impulses to arise in all men, regardless of race.” In its handling of the issues it’s actually trying to explore—addiction, guilt, self-loathing—A Good Person is at times a twinge ham-fisted and not particularly insightful, but not overly egregious. It is instead the issues that the film blindly bulldozes over where questions of sensitivity and taste truly rear their heads.

All things considered, A Good Person is perhaps best described as beige—both in the sense that it is dull, and that it is so white it would probably say something like “I don’t see race” unironically. It is not the worst social issue drama about addiction ever made, but it’s hardly worth watching, either.

Should you feel compelled to see it anyway, A Good Person is now playing in select cities, and will expand wide on March 31, 2023.