By Megan Bianco
Two decades after sitcom star Zach Braff made his writing-directing debut with the polarizing Garden State (2004), we are given his fourth feature behind the camera.
A Good Person stars Florence Pugh, one of the best actors of her generation and Braff’s girlfriend at the time of production.
Like Garden State, A Good Person focuses on young people dealing with grief in Braff’s home state of New Jersey. Fortunately for viewers, Pugh’s protagonist is a huge step up from Natalie Portman as Braff’s love interest in State, and probably the biggest highlight of the new film.
Allison’s life (Pugh) takes a turn for the worse when she’s responsible for the deaths of her fiancé’s sister and brother-in-law while looking at her cellphone as she’s driving on the freeway.
Instantly, the engagement to Nathan (Chinaza Uche) is off. She’s depressed, reclusive, and hooked on the pain medication for her accident injuries. Meanwhile, Nathan, his dad, Daniel (Morgan Freeman), and his niece, Ryan (Celeste O’Connor), are dealing with the deaths in the family in their own ways, which ultimately leads them back to Allie.
The best scene in A Good Person is between Pugh and Alex Wolff, who plays a former schoolmate nagging Allie for denying her substance problem. It’s always great to see two young, powerhouse talents perform off each other effortlessly.
The weaknesses in A Good Person are primarily from Braff, unfortunately. Here, we have another case of a down-to-earth dramedy filmmaker who goes full circle as a parody of his style.
Whether it’s the twee indie pop songs, the ironic comic relief, the subdued drama or the preachy climax, A Good Person just feels redundant and dated to what initially made Braff a successful director in 2004.
There are also a few cringe-worthy moments between the younger characters that feel a bit out of touch with young people in real life.
The strangest part of A Good Person is how the detail of Allie checking her cellphone while driving on the freeway is barely acknowledged, feeling like an afterthought until the very last minute. As if Braff almost forgot his lead actually was responsible for the inciting incident.
Allie has potential as a character, and the plot could be executed well, because both are similar to what we saw with Melora Walters in PT Anderson’s Magnolia (1999) or Naomi Watts in AG Iñárritu’s 21 Grams (2003). But, sadly, I’m once again going to have to suggest revisiting the previous pictures more than seeing the new one.