Movies about addiction are nothing new.
“The Lost Weekend,” “The Man With the Golden Arm,” “Days of Wine and Roses,” “Leaving Las Vegas,” “Requiem for a Dream” – the list goes on and on.
Now we’ve got “A Good Person” (R, 129 minutes, in theaters), written and directed by Zach Braff (“Garden State”), and starring Florence Pugh and Morgan Freeman.
The drama has a lot in common with the characters whose struggles it depicts.
It takes missteps that are self-defeating.
But its heart is in the right place, and, ultimately, that sincerity shines through.
Pugh plays fun-loving Allison Johnson, who’s happily engaged to Nathan (Chinaza Uche) and seems on the fast track to success. She gets into a car accident. People die. And everything in her life changes.
A year passes. Allison and Nathan have broken up. Severely injured in the accident, Allison is now addicted to pain medication. She lives – and fights – with her mother (Molly Shannon), who has her own issues. Allison’s life is a mess.
When she finally attends a 12-step meeting, she runs into Nathan’s father, Daniel (Freeman). Daniel is a Vietnam vet whose past alcohol-fueled abuse of his family has left him estranged from Nathan. Daniel also blames Allison for personal loss related to the accident.
Allison’s instinct is to bolt and find another meeting, but Daniel, who has been in recovery for many years, persuades her to stay. He knows how hard it is for an addict to make that first meeting.
What follows is predictable:
Allison and Daniel become close. Both struggle to stay clean. Both fail at some point, and it all comes to a head.
But while the roller-coaster plot doesn’t offer much in the way of surprise – and leads to a climactic party scene that is particularly contrived – “A Good Person” largely gets addiction right: the denial, the remorse, the excuses (it’s always someone else’s fault), the frustration, the degradation, the pain, the impact on others. The nightmare of it all.
If you’ve lived it, you can recognize it. And most people, in one way or another, probably have been touched by addiction – which explains why movies about the issue keep coming out. (One of the film’s best lines: “It turns out the opium of the masses is opium.”)
Aside from “getting it right,” what lifts this film from well-meaning mediocrity are the performances, especially those of Pugh and Freeman.
Pugh is pretty much great in everything, from “Lady Macbeth” to “Little Women,” and this ranks among her best work. She shows many sides of Allison – the sexy, sophisticated professional with a bright future; the adult daughter who acts like a defiant teenager; the glassy-eyed addict trying to fake clear-headedness; the grief-stricken ex-lover; etc. – while always staying true to the core of the character.
Freeman, meanwhile, has one of his best roles, and thrives in it, as Daniel, a man struggling to maintain control of his life while suffering from the bitterness of terrible loss and from the harm he’s inflicted on others. Daniel’s ideal, self-controlled life is symbolized by a miniature town and electric train he has set up in his basement. Here he has created a world where love and joy reign, where people do the right thing, where addiction and grief do not exist.
If only. … ***½ (out of four)
** Click here for Tim Miller’s previous movie columns for Cape Cod Wave **
Please like Cape Cod Wave on Facebook.
Cape Cod Wave Magazine covers the character & culture of Cape Cod. Please see our Longform stories.
Tim Miller is co-president of the Boston Society of Film Critics. He teaches film and journalism at Cape Cod Community College in West Barnstable. You can contact Tim at [email protected] or follow him onTwitter @TimMillerCritic. Or you can ignore him completely.