A Good Person | Movie Review

Who doesn’t go to a movie starring Morgan Freeman and expect certain things? We expect to always love the character he’s playing. There is the expectation Freeman will provide a euphonious narrative of some sort. Finally, we assume the film will be classy, well done and memorable.

The familiar voiceover is there, but I’m not sure the other expectations are fully met.  

Maybe. Sort of.

Director and writer Zach Braff – known for his comedy work and his T-Mobile commercials – brings us “A Good Person,” something he concocted during the pandemic and a film that almost gets it right in many places. It tells the story of Allison (Florence Pugh), a successful young woman with everything going for her, including being wed to a devoted guy. The morning after a wonderful engagement party, Allison drives her soon-to-be sister and brother-in-law to look at wedding gowns. Caught in slow-moving traffic due to road construction, Allison glances quickly at her cell phone to find an alternative route. A backhoe suddenly appears in front of her, and there is no time to stop.  

Allison is the only survivor.

Fast forward to a year later. Allison is at home with her mother (Molly Shannon), a volatile yet loving mother, riding a bicycle because she’s afraid to drive and addicted to OxyContin and alcohol. The fiance is nowhere to be found and Allison finally agrees to attend an AA meeting to beat her addictions. She runs into Daniel (Freeman), the father of both the deceased sister-in-law and former fiance. Himself an alcoholic who has been sober for 10 years, Daniel encourages Allison as best he can while fighting his own demons, raising his orphaned granddaughter and grappling with the deep resentment he holds against Allison.

Braff has some good ideas and his intentions were admirable for this movie. Indeed, it’s a big deal that he wrote and directed. There are parts of it that work very well, especially thanks to the casting of Freeman and Pugh. But several parts are contrived and should have stayed on the “ideas to consider” list.Several scenes are draggy and too long. I felt the need to say “let’s get going” a few times, and I’m always on guard for too much navel gazing and/or staring off into the distance to ponder in movies such as this.

There is an especially ill-conceived scene in which a whiskey-toting Freeman, a former police officer, heads to a sketchy party to retrieve his underage granddaughter and ends up pointing a loaded gun at her paramour. I know the scene was thought to be necessary to further illustrate the obstacles to sobriety, the power of suppressed grief, and how self-forgiveness in many cases is nearly impossible. However, I’m wondering if it couldn’t have been presented in a better scenario; perhaps one that kept the audience from saying “Aw, come on!” under their breath.  

Freeman is charming as always, and it’s a little hard to believe he falls off the wagon after 10 years of being sober – followed by him saying some incredibly damaging things to Pugh’s character near the end of the movie. His character seems incapable of being anything but level-headed and solid, but I suppose that is part of the mystery of alcoholism.

Pugh’s acting style is raw and real, and her superior performance is the highlight of the movie. Many of her scenes, whether with other actors or alone, are the elements that makes this film work in the areas it is lacking in.

 I’m going to go out on a limb here and risk being labeled a prude: do we really need so much of the “F” word? Do people really talk like that? Do they say it that much? I tend to tune out the people who do and I’m not sure the great Freeman was comfortable saying it as much as the script called for. 

There is so much I appreciated about this film, aside from the powerhouse cast.  I loved the cameo by the wonderful Jackie Hoffman (Feud: Bette and Joan), and as I said, I thought many of the scenes between Pugh and Freeman were superb. The supporting cast was spot on, and the setting of South Orange, N.J. was gritty and real and scenic. I also liked the way the story was resolved and I liked how Braff chose to present the ending scene.  

Well done.

I think Braff has done phenomenal work in many areas, and I’m going to say he needs to keep writing and directing. Eventually, I think he will get it completely right, as he was almost there with this particular film. 

In the end, I heard fellow critics leaving the theater and saying, “So the lesson here is don’t look at your phone while driving.” Yes, indeed.  But I’m wondering how such an important lesson can be somewhat pushed aside in the midst of a story that wasn’t always on target.  

Such an opportunity should have been taken and could have made a powerful statement.

My grade for this film is a B-

I encourage you to see it for all the good things I mentioned, especially Ms. Pugh and the legend that is Morgan Freeman.  

“A Good Person” opens in theaters on March 24 and is rated R for drug use, sexual references and language. Running time is 2 hours and 9 minutes.

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Mark Tullis

Mark is a 25-year veteran teacher teaching in Columbia. Originally from Fairfield, Mark is married with four children. He enjoys reading, writing, and spending time with his family, and has been involved in various aspects of professional and community theater for many years and enjoys appearing in local productions. Mark has also written a "slice of life" style column for the Republic-Times since 2007.
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