A few decades ago Zach Braff was an indie critical darling. Any liberal arts college dorm hall you walked by was full of The Shins or Cary Brothers playing due to Braff’s emo Jersey love letter “Garden State.” The film has now become synonymous with obnoxious white males telling their dream fantasy of a woman saving them from their own depression but being safe enough to not overstep their creative control. It hasn’t left the greatest taste over the years, but even in revisiting the film there is still greatness that exists amongst the angst. This comes in the form of Braff’s ability to show a side of New Jersey that is often disregarded. A calmness that is still riddled with anxiety but can still find solace in this great east coast state where the rules are only known by those who come from Jersey. Nearly twenty years later and Braff is back after a very successful (and big budget) career with another love letter to Jersey this time through even greater loss and defeat. A GOOD PERSON has all the staples that Braff continues to show over the years, for better or worse, but there is a greater maturity this time around even when it fumbles. A GOOD PERSON is also another excellent showcase for ultra talented Florence Pugh. Pugh who has already made a big name for herself involving indie hits, Marvel blockbuster, an academy award nomination and of course being one of the internets favorite people. Pugh and Braff (real world news aside) are an excellent team together. They both seem to fully understand one another’s abilities and limitations and push both of them forward. A GOOD PERSON is also a better and empathetic understanding of addiction something that many films today claim to know but fail miserably at. Above all else A GOOD PERSON is another love letter to New Jersey while still aiding the argument that it is practically impossible to ever fully demonstrate this State on film.

Things are just looking bright for Allison (Pugh) a young pharmaceutical rep who is soon to be married to Nathan (Chinaza Uche) and in doing so will obtain a wonderful sister in law Molly, (Nichelle Hines) a step niece Ryan (Celeste O’ Connor) and a soon to be born niece. Allison and Nathan are like any normal couple happily living in their South Orange (where the film was filmed) home spending their time getting ready for the wedding while also still carrying that soon to be honeymoon bliss. Unfortunately a devastating car accident (that began with Allison looking at her phone not the road) leaves Molly and her unborn child dead, Allison severely wounded and Ryan in the care of her grandfather Daniel (Morgan Freeman). The film hits heavy almost in the area of Lifetime movie, but at the same time these situations are real and while may feel cinematic in its delivery it is far from unrealistic. As a year goes by Allison is back living at home with her mom (Molly Shannon) and has called things off with Nathan. Her prescribed access to Oxycodone has opened up an addiction and Allison now spends her time trying to find her next fix. Pugh has a great handle on her performance as someone newly experiencing her addiction. Her performance is never over the top giving the audience a whole “we’ve seen this before” eye roll, but rather comfortability that comes from so many claiming to be there for addicts but leaving their side when the situation actually arises. Her mother tries to deal with it, but also finds solace in her own bottles of wine so when Allison finds herself at a local bar it isn’t long until she stumbles upon a typical Jersey duo (Alex Wolff and Brian Rojas respectively) that play out like a Jay and Silent Bob if they moved to meth instead of weed. Their encounter is one of the more hard hitting scenes that feels all too real in a state where so many are lost but refuse to be criticized for it. Eventually Allison hits a sort of rock bottom and finds her way into an AA meeting where she bumps into her would be father in law Daniel.

Now if all this seems to derivative of the old time to clean yourself up film, then thankfully this film knows its best weapons in the form of Pugh and Freeman. Daniel with his ten years sobriety knows it still hasn’t made up for the time he has lost with his son Nathan and the time he will never get back with his daughter. Freeman as a performer is able to put all of these emotions into every word he mutters as he gracefully spends his days putting together his model train town. A miniature town and life that he opens up to Allison about and how it is like the calm and happy life he never had due to his own wrongdoings and the mistakes of his own father. The film finds its extra footing in being one about forgiveness as Daniel begins to help Allison with her own recovery and Allison in return tries to help Daniel connect with Ryan. But even amongst all the hand holding the film knows to still keep everyone at arm’s length and remind everyone that granting someone your forgiveness is a lot different than acting on it.

Through and through this is still a melodramatic Zach Braff film that takes on intensity in some simplistic manners. Allison’s immediate addiction is a necessary look at the ongoing opioid crisis but the film rushes over the fact and chooses to be its redemption story instead. It also finds a few too many ways to stumble towards its ending that even at its fork in the road seems to tidy up all too well. But then again maybe this is Braff’s own train world where things find their way back to the station every time. This is a film after all that includes several gorgeous shots of the South Orange train station where this critic (and like many New Jersians) have spent far too much time worrying about the next step. If Daniel’s main goal in life is to remind himself that there is a fantasy world where things can be cleared up then maybe that world can find its way to becoming a reality in our minds and hearts. It won’t work for everyone but hey if you are just a simple New Jersey person who still clings to their Garden State Soundtrack then this one is for you.




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