Friday, March 24, 2023


Opening today:

A Good Person--In the opening scenes, Allison is smart, funny, talented, beautiful and on the verge of marrying an adoring guy. A year later, in the aftermath of a horrible car accident, she's bereaved, single and deeply in denial about her addiction to painkillers. She scoots around her New Jersey town on a bicycle, understandably unable to drive or ride in a car, trying to score pills and using her caustic wit to evade the truth about her situation.

The story focuses on the improbable bond that develops between Allison, played by Florence Pugh, and Morgan Freeman as Daniel, the widower who was going to be her father-in-law. A retired cop, Daniel is a distant man with a troubling family history of his own; he's now raising his sweet and smart but angry and rebellious teenage granddaughter Ryan.

Considering how great Morgan Freeman is, it's odd how rarely we see him in a role worthy of him. Daniel isn't such a role either, really, but compared to what he gets to do, probably much more lucratively, in stuff like Dolphin Tale and Angel Has Fallen and The Hitman's Wife's Bodyguard this seems like Eugene O'Neill.

He appears to barely need to bestir himself to bring the role his unerring authority. He's given some passages of voiceover at the beginning and the end, delivering them in those beautiful, measured tones that call to mind his narration in The Shawshank Redemption. This is perhaps a duty he should avoid in the future; it threatens to tame him into a sage old duffer when much of his power, going all the way back to his early days, lay in his coiled potential for righteous wrath.

Still, in A Good Person, when we see Freeman's face register bad news in the presence of someone from whom he wants to hide it, it's hard to imagine a current actor who could manage the same level of emotion without telegraphing. Similarly, Daniel's anger and guilt and sadness are tempered by age and hard-won perspective, but they haven't left him by a long shot, and Freeman makes them palpable, which in turn makes Daniel's compassion all the more touching.

Florence Pugh is a marvel. She stole 2019's Little Women and 2021's Black Widow; here she's the leading lady and nobody steals the movie from her. Her sly wit keeps Allison from being a drag to watch even when actually spending time with her certainly would be. Her scenes opposite Molly Shannon as her browbeating, wine-sipping, desperately loving mother have a ring of long history to them, and above all she and Freeman together generate an atmosphere of hushed, mutually grateful shared grief. 

Braff, a blessedly and fearlessly silly comic actor, is less assured when it comes to creating serious drama; there are cluttered scenes here where he overplays his hand. But his dialogue is robust and speakable, and he's helped by a unifying theme: the ubiquity of addiction in modern life. From the first minutes of the film on, we're reminded of the central role in our lives of everything from pot to pills to booze to tobacco, but Braff makes a point of emphasizing one more: smartphones. They're treated as one more pill, one more pipe, one more flask from which we take multiple hits every day.

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