A Good Person (2023)
Directed by Zach Braff
Starring Florence Pugh, Morgan Freeman and Celeste O’Connor
By Tim Basaraba
I’ve always been indifferent to Zach Braff. I’ve never seen his films Garden State (2004) or Wish I Was Here (2014), nor have I watched a single episode of Scrubs (2004-2009). I don’t have an aversion to Braff, his acting, or his directing, it’s just that some people’s work doesn’t find it’s way into my life.
Florence Pugh, on the other hand, is an actress who has been wowing me since her amazing run in 2019, when she played three completely different characters in three completely different films…perfectly: Fighting With My Family, Midsommar and Little Women. Since then, I have made a point to see anything and everything she appears in. Usually, she’s the best part of every film she’s in. (Sorry not sorry, Harry Styles).
Which brings us to Braff’s 2023 film, A Good Person, in which Pugh serves as my conduit to Braff’s work. Like others, I wasn’t coming into it thinking “wow, Zach Braff’s first film in 10 years!” I was just excited to see the next Florence Pugh film.
The marketing for A Good Person made me think I was in for a quirky comedy, with Morgan Freeman quipping about raising a teenage granddaughter and Pugh’s rough-around-the-edges character pitching in. Bravo to Braff, though, because the marketing didn’t prepare me for a thought-provoking deep dive into the intricacies of grief, guilt and addiction. A Good Person poignantly examines how one event can change the lives of everyone in their circle… and beyond. The elements of humor hinted at in the film’s trailer are there, but they are sparse, serving only as release from the intense situations involving Freeman, Pugh and Celeste O’Connor’s characters.
O’Connor plays Ryan, the granddaughter being raised by the odd pairing of Freeman and Pugh, and gives a she gives a great performance as a character with a cavalier attitude battling against grief and angst. The lines are well-written and the character accurately emulates my perception of a Gen Z woman of color. (Having two Gen Z nieces who fit this description, I feel like I’m an expert!)
I never want to spoil anything in my reviews, and I feel like I have already said too much. Just know that there are twists and turns regarding the connections between our characters. There are also some great supporting cast members, led by Molly Shannon as an enabling mother who breaks up the tension between the main characters. A Good Person also has a satisfying payoff that seems true to real life, though the penultimate scene features a melodramatic culmination that seems forced and unneeded. If it wasn’t for this cringey, over-the-top “stakes raiser” scene, this would be a near perfect film.
I watched A Good Person to see Pugh shine, and I got what I expected. I also got introduced to a great actress in O’Connor’ and got to hear screen legend Morgan Freeman say “fuck” multiple times. Best of all, I’m no longer indifferent to Zach Braff. His art finally found its way in to my life. Time to view Garden State and Wish I was Here, though I don’t think I will dive into 182 episodes of Scrubs quite yet.
If Pugh’s films since her triple threat year back in 2019 – Black Widow, Don’t Worry Darling and Puss in Boots: Last Wish – were a B, a B- and an A-, respectively then her latest is a B+.