Florence Pugh, an Oscar nominee, plays a young lady battling PTSD, a drug addiction, and personal issues in A Good Person. You’ve heard the story before.
It is a rite of passage for performers, particularly those of a certain age, to play addicts. Drugs, booze, tablets, or anything else you would drink, snort, or shoot in an unhealthy, pain-numbing way — the precise drug or substances they’re abusing will differ. Nonetheless, it is a challenge that permits stage and screen artists (particularly screen performers) to play the emotional scales: rage, despair, buzzed-out ecstasy, disease, health, self-pity, self-acceptance, and/or self-destruction. If you do it correctly, you can delve into the depths of the human spirit. If you do it properly, you might be able to advance to the role of an addict’s patient parent one day.
Florence Pugh — Oscar candidate, best-actor-of-her-generation contender, first-rate ugly crier, the top model of flowery sacrifice clothing, and Grade-A thrower of on-set shade — gets her shot at the addict-melodrama gold with A Good Person.
Allison, Florence Pugh’s character, has it everything, from a gorgeous fiancé named Nathan (Chinaza Uche) to a successful career selling pharmaceuticals to a large group of friends in South Orange, New Jersey, who truly enjoy her impromptu piano performances at dinner parties. Allison is then engaged in an accident. Tragedy and trauma follow. She’s cutting her own hair in a social-media influencer video a year later, which is never a good omen. Which, of course, indicates she’s addicted to OxyContin.
Miss Flo begins her trek through the addiction-melodrama stations of the cross, marking each one off one by one. Allison will grow upset and enraged if she is unable to renew her prescription, and she will tell her mother (Molly Shannon) that she despises her. She will ride her bike along residential streets, her eyes dark-circled, and stare with tremendous determination. Allison will try to blackmail an old employee and humiliate herself in front of the “Jersey trash” she knew in high school since they will now assist her in obtaining Oxy. (A painkiller referred to as “heroin in a gorgeous dress” by a dirtbag dealer played by Alex Wolff. This is the film’s greatest line.)
Also, Read The Eternal Daughter: Tilda Swinton shines in Joanna Hogg’s chilling drama.
She will vomit in places where one should not puke, only to wake up on the bathroom floor, perplexed and embarrassed. Daniel (Morgan Freeman, really turning up the Morgan Freeman here), a friend Allison had before the tragedy, would drive her to meetings and, as a recovered alcoholic, will give 12-step mentorship. She will try to make apologies, particularly to Daniel’s granddaughter Ryan (Celeste O’Connor), for reasons related to the aforementioned tragedy. There will be painful admissions and brief moments of sobriety, detox tossing and turning, relapses, and wake-up calls. You know the routine.
This is the bit where we inform you that Zach Braff is the writer-director of this story about PTSD, pill-popping, and personal demons. We’d purposely avoided mentioning it since there’s a strong possibility you already have feelings for the former Scrubs star and director. Garden State is either the second coming of The Graduate or it is annoying to the Nth degree – there are no in-betweens with his 2004 dramedy. (Maybe you once told someone, “You’ve got to see this one movie, it’ll alter your life, we swear.” We do not pass judgment on you.)
Any audience acquainted with his work behind the camera already knows what they’re in for, but the hope is that the severity of the subject will add some grit to his predilection for sincerity and easy-target emotional hand-wringing. Then you hear Freeman’s opening monologue about the therapeutic effect of model train sets, followed by a score of maudlin piano tinkling & sensitive-guy indie rock, and you wonder how long this movie is.
It’s worth noting that Zach Braff and Florence Pugh were formerly a couple, which sparked much debate on the internet and would ordinarily be irrelevant in a review like this.
Except that the writer-director has stated that he wrote this for his then-romantic relationship, which makes perfect sense. Because A Good Person isn’t about drug addiction, bereavement, second chances, or the hard process of reassembling your life after it’s been smashed into a million small pieces. Not at all. It’s all about someone giving a muse a chance to strut and fret on stage and perhaps add to a highlight reel in the process. That would have been clear if he hadn’t confessed it. This is not a film. It’s a mash-up.
Not that Florence Pugh is phoning in any of her sobbing, writhing, and clawing her way back to sobriety, or that she isn’t fully committed to what she’s doing onscreen. She will not allow this character to become a Manic Pixie Pill Junkie, even if A Nice Person is gently (or not so softly) urging her in that way. Pugh has a way of reminding you why a close-up is the biggest gift the movies have ever given us, while still making her reactions to a lot of melodramatic stuff look natural. It has always been her gift, and it is evident here as well.
You can’t blame Zach Braff for wanting to make a film about her. But you may blame him for the film that surrounds that performance, which includes a really absurd climax — one of several — set at a Williamsburg house party and a conclusion so self-aggrandizing lachrymose that you’ll have to fight the impulse to scream. More forceful, much superior fixes of the actor’s work may be found here, here, and even, God has compassion on our soul, here. Consider this a public service announcement from Pugh.