Movie Review: “A Good Person,” a hit-and-miss star vehicle for Pugh and Freeman

“A Good Person,” which earned a token, desultory release from MGM, is more than its novelty of being a film that Florence Pugh made for her then writer-director beau, Zach Braff, prior to breaking up.

It’s a see-saw of emotions, tones, dull tropes mixed with novel twists, and carried along for much of its excessive run time by a couple of great performances.

If all Braff had gotten out of it was another shot at recapturing his elusive “Garden State” sensitive indie character-study-in-Jersey mojo, this might be a write-off. But writing a wonderful part for Pugh, an addict lost in pills and lost in West Orange thanks to the crippling guilt of surviving a car accident that killed her prospective in-laws, and giving the great Morgan Freeman a role that — while “cuddly,” his late career brand — has enough edge to be worthy of him makes “Scrubs” icon Braff worthy of our thanks.

Pugh plays Allison, a lively pharmaceutical saleswoman whom we meet at a gathering celebrating her engagement to Nathan (Chinaza Uche). Pounding away at the piano and singing along, she is the tipsy life of that party. Later, there’s a little something extra to take the edge off the evening.

The next day, she’s driving her future sister-and-brother-in-law (Nichelle Hines, Toby Onwumere) into “the city” to shop for wedding dresses and catch a TKTS discounted play and there’s an accident.

One year later, Allison’s unemployed, hooked on Oxy and living with her co-dependent Mom (Molly Shannon, superb). It gets so bad that she finds herself quasi-blackmailing a fellow pharma rep and broke and hitting up a couple of lowlifes from her high school days for a fix.

“I didn’t think I was better than you,” she explains to the deadenders/street-dealers. “I knew it.”

Her self-medicating mom tries to push her in the same direction as a stickler pharmacist. “Rehab” might be off the table for the uninsured. But 12 steps? That could be her lifeline.

Wouldn’t you know it, it’s the same AA group that her embittered, estranged, almost father-in-law (Freeman) is in. He’s been driven back towards the bottle thanks to having to raise the granddaughter (Celeste O’Connor) orphaned in Allison’s accident.

Braff has always leaned towards music he described as “sensie” pop — a tad too hip to be maudlin — and is at his best writing and telling a story about characters who fit that description in a film scored by the likes of Odessa, Cary Brothers and Angelo de Augustine tunes.

Pugh and Freeman have terrific chemistry. His sweet-spot, almost lost in years of sentimental pap, was emotional but with a scary edge. Ex-cop Daniel may philosophize and voice-over narrate this tale in model train metaphors, but we can figure out he knows the truth about the wreck and he’s never really going to forgive it.

Braff’s tendency to undercut emotion with easy laughs — a hallmark of the TV series that formed him as an actor and writer-director — works for and against “A Good Person.” The terrible cost this accident has had on granddaughter Ryan is never dismissed, but it is given its cute put-downs.

“I need a dog crate the size of a teenager,” Daniel quips. Oxy? “It’s heroin in a pretty little dress.”

There’s an entirely too abrupt “Let’s be friends” turn in the Allison/Ryan relationship. The kid knows how her parents died and who did it, after all.

And the film shows evidence of Netflix editing — that slack tendency to leave in scenes and characters who don’t advance to plot and make the pace plodding, tailor made for streaming over the course of a long, rainy afternoon.

But Pugh has never been better than she is here, utterly immersed in the character’s accent and world-shrinking despair. And Freeman lends some flint and fire and sparkle to this simple redemption tale that touches, amuses, overreaches and overstays its welcome.

Rating: R for drug abuse, language throughout and some sexual references.

Cast: Florence Pugh, Morgan Freeman, Celeste O’Connor, Chinaza Uche, Zoe Lister-Jones and Molly Shannon.

Credits: Scripted and directed by Zach Braff. An MGM release.

Running time: 2:08


About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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