The rise of Florence Pugh has been pretty astonishing to witness. After gaining acclaim for her film debut in 2016’s Lady Macbeth, the actor has gone back-and-forth between mainstream and art fare, starring in films as disparate as Fighting with My Family, Midsommar, Black Widow, and Little Women, for which she earned an Oscar nomination.
Now, thanks to her former romantic partner Zach Braff, she has another intense leading part to add to her filmography in A Good Person. Pugh plays Allison, a young, music-loving pharmaceutical rep who’s engaged to be married to Nathan (Chinaza Uche). One day, however, she’s involved in a car accident that winds up killing Molly (Nichelle Hines) and Jesse (Onwumere), her would-be sister- and brother-in-law.
The bulk of the film takes place a year after the accident, as Allison is still struggling with pain resulting from the crash and the grief/guilt over the deaths. Simultaneously, Daniel (Morgan Freeman) is doing his best to raise Molly and Jesse’s daughter, Ryan (Celeste O’Connor), and deal with his long estrangement from Nathan. A search for help with addiction for both Allison and Daniel leads them into a tentative friendship.
Written and directed by Braff (Garden State), the film touches on its serious issues in a deft manner. While Allison’s depressive state sends her down a bunch of tough roads for both her and the audience, the film is balanced with lighter moments, many of them courtesy of Allison’s mom, Diane (Molly Shannon). As much as the film is a meditation on how – and how not – to handle grief, it thrives on Allison’s various relationships, and scenes with each of the main co-stars build those bonds nicely.
Smaller details, like Allison riding her bike everywhere because she’s afraid to drive, pay dividends as well. Riding her bike causes her to show up sweaty and out-of-breath in multiple scenes, adding to the haggard and withdrawn look she maintains for most of the film. There can be a certain cliché in how someone acts when they’re trying to portray the state Allison is in, but Pugh, Braff, and the filmmaking team are able to subvert that trope with their choices.
If there’s one fault to the film, it’s that Braff can’t quite land the plane on each of the characters’ stories. All of the stories are related to one another, so it’s difficult to untangle them. After spending most of the film keeping them relatively separate, a decision to bring them all together in a late scene feels rushed and unsatisfying. It doesn’t ruin the film, but it does lessen it to a degree.
Written for Pugh by Braff when they were still a couple, the film hinges on Pugh carrying most of emotional weight of the story, and she delivers in a big way. She eschews histrionics in favor of more subtle acting, and the result is powerful. The 85-year-old Freeman hasn’t had a meaty dramatic role like this in a long time, so it’s nice to see he still has it. Shannon, O’Connor, and Zoe Lister-Jones also elevate the story.
Though it’s early in the year, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that Pugh could snag an Oscar nomination for her performance in A Good Person. You could call it a star-making turn if she weren’t already a star; this just solidifies her place in Hollywood for years to come.
A Good Person opens in theaters on March 24.