"I don't know how to do this."
Life is often a rollercoaster of events and emotions, rarely taking us where we feel we need to go. There is no denying the impact the hand of fate and the reality of chance hold. Both play a decisive role in that proverbial rollercoaster, complementing the feelings of love and joy with the pain of loss and heartache.
For Allison (Florence Pugh), a young, beautiful New Jersian set to marry the love of her life, a more valid point doesn't exist. On the way to try on wedding dresses, her future sister-in-law riding shotgun, Allison's vehicle runs into a backhoe reversing onto the road. Hours later, she wakes in a hospital bed as the lone survivor of her car.
Simple in nature, Zach Braff's A Good Person is layered in complexity as it beautifully analyzes the intricacies that exist in every relationship. And though the story bears a melancholy tone, Allison's journey provides a clear, uninterrupted picture of the struggles we confront when we face guilt and grief.
The film, tackling the heavy subjects of loss, addiction, and loneliness, is not one to venture into lightly. A Good Person is, by all accounts, a mood. And that mood isn't exactly pleasant. Florence Pugh gives the performance of her young career as Allison, bringing forth a once glistening soul, now tired and broken. Her moves are responsive and honest, her mental state an evolving question mark. But, in many cases, that is the way it is. Grief and pain significantly harm a mind, and even as Allison pleads for help, her struggle isn't easily overcome.
Well-paced and eloquently written, the film benefits from strong supporting performances, most notably that of Morgan Freeman and Celeste O'Connor. Together, they form an additional arm to Allison's story, each grieving in their own way as they try to work past that horrific accident and push forward. Freeman's Daniel bears decades of baggage as he struggles with alcoholism, a trait he got from his father and succumbed to after returning from Vietnam. Though he and Allison know one another, they find themselves reacquainted when she enlists help in the form of a meeting that Daniel regularly attends.
At this moment, nearly halfway through the film, A Good Person begins to evolve. Here, past complex relationships transition into those of the present; pain and frustration give way to compassion and understanding. And like life, newly formed obstacles emerge, setting up a second half full of growing pains and emotional relapses.
As Allison formulates a relationship with O'Connor's Ryan, the daughter of her passenger seat rider that fateful afternoon, the film pivots. Grasping for answers, Ryan longs for a sense of understanding. Braff impeccably crafts the heart and mind of a sixteen-year-old who acts impulsively without fully understanding the totality of the situation. When a voyage into the city results in both women attending a house party, it leads to a blowup that has been building since that first encounter at the onset of Allison's recovery. The moment is heavy, the words deliberate and heart-wrenching. But, in a way, Allison needed to hear them, even if she wished she never had.
Braff's ability to tell such a somber story with an undercurrent of natural humor is remarkable. That and a solid soundtrack are trademarks of his style, both on full display here. However, I still wish Molly Shannon had been able to flex her dramatic muscles a bit more. Her scenes are great, but of all the characters in the film, hers is harshly underdeveloped and underutilized. It doesn't distract from Allison's journey, but the oversight is glaring, given that the film does everything else so well.