A Good Person, written and directed by Zach Braff, stars Florence Pugh in one of her best performances to date despite the story needing a lot of work.
A Good Person sees Allison (Florence Pugh) struggling with opioid addiction as a victim of a car incident hospitalising her and killing her two passengers.
One of the passengers was her soon-to-be sister-in-law. Following the tragic death, the father of the victim, Daniel (Morgan Freeman) and brother, Nathan (Chinaza Uche), relinquished all ties with Allison.
However, when Allison stumbles into an Addiction Anonymous meeting at Daniel’s church, the pair begin forming a bond to support each other through the struggles they each face in dealing with the grief and their own reliance on addictive substances.
This film is unremarkably bland in its storytelling, stretching its melancholic melodrama beyond a two-hour runtime. However, it excels in giving Florence Pugh room to showcase her extraordinary talent and capabilities as an actor and singing performer.
As one of the four film producers, Pugh treats the film as her playground.
A sandbox of a film to test, break and explore the amount she can wholly lean into her character’s role, with her sprinkled reminders of her singing capabilities, reminiscent of her earlier YouTube videos under the alias Flossie Rose. Yet, when her delivery is as consistently flawless as she demonstrates in A Good Person, who are we to question her methods?
Braff, unequivocally known for directing Garden State and for starring in the multi-Emmy award-winning show Scrubs, has been finetuning his taste in the melodrama genre over the years, with Wish I Were Here being an example where his directorial impact was at its strongest.
In A Good Person, however, this feels more nuanced, as if knowing that the film’s purpose is to allow Florence Pugh and Morgan Freeman ample room to win over audiences.
Disappointingly, the story itself felt clunky. The main story beats relied on telling the audience what is, what will, or what did happen, rather than using the medium of visual storytelling to allow us to fill in the gaps ourselves. For instance, A Good Person includes a dialogue exchange between Pugh and Freeman where we explore Freeman’s backstory, learning that in his youth, he served in the military and was in the police force. It does the trick in conveying the message, but it could be more creative.
Let us, instead, compare this with the opening shot of Hitchcock’s Rear Window, a film that provides a masterclass in showing-not-telling. The first time the camera finds James Stewart in Rear Window, it buzzes like a fly, capturing all the information, with no dialogue or narration to ruin it, where we learn everything about his backstory of how he ended up housebound in mere seconds.
Admittedly Hitchcock also coined a term referring to drama as life with all the boring bits edited out, something for which the melodrama genre and Zach Braff’s preference both refute. However, it would have been nice to have seen an example from Braff that would have cemented his knowledge of character development beyond an actor crying without the need for a tear stick.
Similarly, A Good Person randomly introduces and then ignores the involvement of a gun in the second act, as if disregarding Chekov’s gun rule of storytelling in its most literal sense. All this confirms, as a result, the story of A Good Person needed tightening down, fixing, and smoothing out the kinks.
While Pugh and Freeman attempt to transform it into something salvageable, making a fine effort is ultimately capped in its potential because of its weak and lacking narrative – even if Florence Pugh gives it her damn best shot.
Instead, because of the effort noticeably given by its lead star, the film shifts into a celebration of Florence Pugh rather than a reflection on the broader issue in America of opioid addictions, something for which OxyContin continues to devastate lives, failing to fully explore how its devastation can rip families apart in a similar approach to Beautiful Boy, starring Timothée Chalamet and Steve Carrell.
Existing in a period of conversation where the Sackler Family, the owners of the company Purdue Pharmacy, the manufacturers of OxyContin, have featured in numerous pieces of media over the last couple of years, including the Academy Award-nominated documentary All The Beauty and the Bloodshed, and the short film The Family Statement, it is curious how A Good Person tackles the issue of the ongoing opioid addiction, locking itself into this contemporary period, and yet, never offering either a solution or holding any party accountable.
It’s a shame that A Good Person didn’t fully deliver the beats I expected it to or delve into the character relationships it set itself up for. But, as a way to allow Florence Pugh to play and explore a range of performances we’ve not yet seen from her, I hope this will open up even more doors and roles that push her abilities further, as I suspect over recent years we’ve only begun to see the tip of the iceberg of what she can do.
A Good Person is in cinemas from Friday 24 March before becoming exclusive to Sky Cinema from 28 April.
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