Defining good people as those who pick themselves up with plucky courage and out-of-whack lives is a dumbing down of what approval is. Surely Zach Braff, director of A Good Person, must know that. He played a seemingly good person on Scrubs for the better half of a decade and displayed what it means to be approved of. Enlisting surprisingly frequent collaborator Morgan Freeman and hotshot name Florence Pugh, whose recent run of features is questionable and lacking, for a two-hour drama comedy, is the stuff 2014 was made of. Funny, since that was the last amicable conclusion Braff made on how desperate it gets for those who are not afforded the best of circumstances. Wish I Was Here feels so far away.
Braff hopes viewers are fans of model trains. He has Freeman drone on about them long enough. He uses it as a conduit for the point of this story and as a way of explaining the once a close-knit community that bases itself around church, children and charm. Someone found a hobby during lockdown. There was once a train set in a loved one’s attic. After putting the track down, buying two small houses and four people, as well as fashioning a rather impressive tunnel made of discarded newsprint, it was scrapped. It was a futile endeavour when there was no destination in sight. A Good Person has a destination but no way of getting there without hammy ventures down suburban parties dominated by Pugh singing and playing the piano. Tragedy strikes good people.
Forgiveness is the core of A Good Person and while it is easy to see where Pugh and Freeman can take this tale of forgiving the self for actions of accidents and otherwise, Braff leaves little impression. His direction and lack of presence behind the camera is a shame given his colourful perspective that makes him a viable lead, or did. Trouble is, it is hard to care when the action is right around the corner and the perspective the audience has of this group of characters is people who laugh at weak jokes and make sitcom live audience noises whenever a story progression is made. Sombre acoustics do more for the emotional clarity Braff hopes to make. He is a long way from Garden State but believes style can be adapted. He pushes on, admirably and hopelessly.
His pan toward the faces of those who realise their presence is an uncomfortable moment, A Good Person is extremely reliant on Freeman and Pugh. Their shared perspectives through characters struggling for sobriety feel a tad reliant on the coincidences of the divine and their struggles overlapping with similarities from before their addictions took hold. A Good Person is just that. A struggle. Braff works up the waterworks and tries to manage a constant barrage of potentially touching moments. Sloppy that may be, it is at least worth a go. At least one of those pieces will stick. Molly Shannon is an essential supporting character, giving the optimism of the past another showcase despite the obvious changes to a person not feeling the way they were before. A Good Person tries, earnestly, to show people can change. It does not have much confidence in itself, though.