Zach Braff as a filmmaker has proven to be a storyteller I deeply respond to. Garden State and Wish I Was Here are brilliantly effective quirky dramedies, establishing his specific voice. I even really enjoyed his remake of Going in Style, which he only directed, as opposed to writing and directing his other features. Now, with A Good Person, Braff has showcased the same feel for characters and emotions, while telling a more mature and far more complex tale. Not everyone will be expecting what he has in store for audiences here, but I was blown away. This film is the class of the year so far, cinematically.
A Good Person is Braff working in a whole new key. To be sure, having a muse in Florence Pugh changes the dynamic a bit, though it’s certainly not the only factor. It just seems like he’s telling a more mature story. His emotions and sense of humor are still fully in evidence, flowing through each character, but here, there’s tragedy compounded on to it all. It easily could have turned into a mess, or rang false, but that’s decidedly not the case. It all builds to a satisfying conclusion that had me openly weeping.
Life sure seemed to be working out for Allison (Pugh). She was engaged to Nathan (Chinaza Uche), succeeding at work as a pharmaceutical sales rep, and the picture of happiness. We’re introduced to them at a party where their love shines to both family and friends. Cut to a year later and nothing is the same. Allison and Nathan have broken up, the former a shell of herself in the aftermath of a car accident that killed Nathan’s sister and brother-in-law, living with her mother Diane (Molly Shannon). The tragedy has also put Nathan’s father Daniel (Morgan Freeman) in the care of his granddaughter Ryan (Celeste O’Connor).
Struggling in their own ways, Allison and Daniel begin to connect after a chance encounter. It’s a tentative friendship at best, based partly in their shared grief and struggles with addiction, but also in trying to figure out a way to handle Ryan. Of course, nothing here is simple or will come easy, with some painful truths needing to be faced for all involved. That being said, these steps could provide salvation for everyone.
Florence Pugh and Morgan Freeman are at the tops of their respective games here. The former has a showcase role unlike any she’s had before, while the latter hasn’t been given this substantial a part in some time. Both dive in and embrace the complexities and messiness of the characters, with terrific results. They’re creatively nurtured and it shows. Freeman has some easy comedic marks to hit, but the flaws in his regretful ex-cop give him dramatic beats he hasn’t been asked to hit in years. Unsurprisingly, he aces them. Pugh, made the centerpiece of the film, is flawless, likewise embracing the mistakes of her character, making her equal parts vibrant and frustratingly reclusive. It’s a full meal, watching her, and a truly satisfying one. Celeste O’Connor gets her share of strong scenes as well, while Molly Shannon and Chinaza Uche have their moments, but it’s Freeman and Pugh shining brightest. Supporting players include Nichelle Hines, Zoe Lister-Jones, Toby Onwumere, Brian Rojas, Alex Wolff, and more.
Writer/director Zach Braff is working in a new register with A Good Person. It suits him, too, showing how he can continually evolve as a compelling filmmaker. The flick is visually striking, with cinematographer Mauro Fiore complimenting Braff’s voice, while composer Bryce Dessner matches the mood with music perfectly. Of course, since this is Braff, the soundtrack is very much on point, too. Still, it’s his writing and directing that shines, as well as the lead performances. He has a sense of when to be funny, when to be be dramatic, and when to be overtly tragic. He’s walking a tightrope but doing it expertly. While Garden State and Wish I Was Here are very much top-tier (and even underrated) works of his, this is Zach Braff at the height of his combined creative powers.
A Good Person tells a very human story and tells it exceedingly well. It’s another new level for Braff, suggesting an exciting filmmaking future for the already talented actor, director, and writer. Moreover, it’s just a wonderful film that makes you laugh and cry in equal measure. I loved it wholeheartedly. A Good Person is more than just good, it’s great. In fact, it’s the best movie of 2023, so far.
From the things you say in this review it must have been mighty close for it to be given the full four stars?
it wasn’t far off, no. That being said, my first four star review of the year does publish in the next week or two…
Air perhaps?… But I know you’ll give nothing away early!
You’ll find out soon enough…
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