She only glanced away for a moment.
Allison’s eyes slipped quickly to the phone in her left hand as her thumb moved the map on screen up a bit. But in that, oh, second or two, the backhoe in the roadway construction area backed into her lane. And by the time she saw it, gasped, and hit the brakes, it was too late.
Does that make her a bad person? Surely not. Good people have tiny lapses of judgement all the time, right?
Allison woke up bruised and with a hole in her skull. Her soon-to-be sister-in-law and brother-in-law, passengers in the car, were both dead. And Allison felt she had no recourse but to quickly drown her guilt and grief in a marching parade of little blue OxyContin pills.
Now, a year later, Allison hasn’t one shred of doubt that she is indeed a bad person. She’s a bad person with no fiancé, no job, no life, and an addiction the size of … a heavy construction backhoe.
Of course, in a rationalizing addict’s brain, the real problem is that OxyContin prescriptions only last so long. And after you burn through them—and every doctor in town who will write you a script—what does a bad person then do?
Oh, you might be surprised.
Eventually, if you actually want to keep living (which is a question Allison has debated), you probably need to get some help. Maybe go to an AA meeting at the local church.
Problem is, when Allison finally musters up the courage to walk into a meeting, she is immediately spotted by an older man named Daniel. Yeah, he just happens to be a recovering alcoholic and the father of Allison’s former fiancé, Nathan.
Oh and let’s not forget, Daniel is also the father of the woman Allison killed while glancing at her phone for a moment.
Allison supposes that this out-of-the-frying-pan-into-the-fire situation is exactly what she deserves.
After all, she’s not a good person.
Allison has a great many things to suffer through thanks to her corrupting and destructive addiction. (Which is obviously not a good thing.) But on the positive side, the further down she slips and the more she struggles, the more she realizes that she needs help. Some, including Daniel, offer that help. Eventually, after many failures, she’s able to find some desperately needed life correction.
Daniel struggles with his own grief and addiction. And, in addition, he has to care for and protect his teen granddaughter, Ryan, who’s going through her own anger and grief issues. Eventually, all of these broken, suffering people are able to offer what little they have to each other.
A Good Person declares that sacrificing for others, accepting help, and reaching daily for a healthy life are all keys to finding freedom from addiction.
To help combat his alcoholism, Daniel began working with model trains at one point. He talks to Allison about creating 1:87 scale model figures and buildings that help him “record” events from his own life. But he also decides to put a positive spin on those memories, such as having a loving father figure in his life.
While trying to hold Ryan accountable for her actions, Daniel makes an earnest effort to communicate clearly with her and express his love for her.
The AA meeting that Daniel and Allison attend takes place at a nondescript local church. Participants in the program say the Serenity Prayer at the beginning of one meeting. While speaking about his own alcoholism, Daniel admits that he believes there are “some things that are impossible to forgive.” “I think even God knows that,” he laments. He later proclaims that he thinks God is testing him with the torments of his life. But he says he will be “unbreakable!” He also states that Allison is a waste of a soul.
Daniel catches 16-year-old Ryan in bed with a 20-year-old man. (Both are in their underwear.) Daniel runs the guy out, keeping the man’s clothes. And he crudely threatens to rip off an important body part if he sees the guy again. Later, Allison assures Daniel that a 16-year-old is going to have sex no matter what he does. Ryan tells him the same thing. So, Daniel concedes the issue and makes her promise to get and use birth control.
A desperate Allison tries to blackmail a former friend by threatening to reveal her darkest sexual secrets.
Allison wears some low-cut tops. And she wears a t-shirt and a pair of very revealing underwear to bed with Nathan. They playfully kiss and caress each other and he moves to kiss her mostly bare backside. Ryan wears a formfitting dress to a concert.
At Allison and Nathan’s engagement party, he jokingly states that if someone is about to have sex with a certain friend, he needs to “wear, like, 11 condoms.”
It can be argued that this whole story of Allison’s grueling battle with addiction and self-abuse is its own form of violence; her emotional and physical crawl toward recovery is incredibly painful to observe.
In a more purely physical sense, Allison struggles with her mother for a bottle of pills and smashes her arm into a mirror, leaving it cut and bloody. She also dreams of her deadly car accident in slow motion as the car spins, windows shatter and the vehicle’s occupants lurch back and forth in their seatbelts.
When Daniel catches a 20-year-old with his young granddaughter, he grabs the guy by the throat, slams him against a wall and then shoves him out of the room. Later, that same guy is in bed with granddaughter Ryan again and Daniel points a pistol at him. It’s nearly certain that the now drunk Daniel will shoot him until Nathan steps in front of the gun and talks Daniel down. Then Nathan punches the guy in the nose.
In a different scene, Daniel talks to Allison about the dangerous and abusive “darkness” that alcohol would cast him into. “I thought I would never lay a hand on my children. And I didn’t. When I was sober,” he reports. Later when Daniel and Nathan talk about the wildness of young Ryan, Daniel proclaims that Nathan and his sister were never so rebellious. “We were good because we were terrified of you,” Nathan sadly replies. In fact, we find out that Nathan’s hearing loss in one ear is because Daniel beat him so mercilessly while drunk.
Along with a great deal of emotional and physical misery, viewers will also suffer the pain of lots of foul language. There are more than 90 f-words and some 20 s-words in the dialogue here, along with repeated uses of “h—,” “d–n,” “b–ch” and “crap.”
God’s name is misused 10 times (twice in combination with “d–n.”) Name-calling includes the slurs “dyke” and “whore.”
People drink wine, beer and alcohol at several parties, a concert and at a bar. We see people smoking marijuana at a couple parties. And after one of those, Allison reports being very stoned from a consumed edible.
Daniel is a recovering alcoholic. But on several occasions, the stress of life almost drives him to opening a bottle of whiskey he keeps hidden away. And when he does finally give in, he gets staggeringly drunk.
Driven by her addictive needs, Allison downs glasses of tequila, even though she has no money to pay for them. A former classmate agrees to pay for her as long as she debases herself verbally and openly admits her addiction. Which she does.
Allison has a morphine drip in the hospital. And we see her downing OxyContin pills on several occasions, as well as swilling cough syrup, struggling to steal someone’s Xanax, snorting cocaine and smoking heroin. In fact, a guy argues that OxyContin is actually “heroin in a pretty dress.” Allison crushes OxyContin pills to snort. She fills her mouth with the pills at one point in anticipation of committing suicide, but spits the drugs out at the last second. We watch her struggle with drug withdrawal.
Eventually Allison sells her only item of value and checks herself into a recovery clinic.
A recovering addict from the AA meeting agrees to sponsor Allison if she agrees to stay clean, to work hard and to go to 90 meetings in 90 days. The sponsor says she won’t waste time on anyone who doesn’t want to recover, noting that she’s worked with many others with only two outcomes: “Some beat it. And some are dead!”
Allison’s mother drinks wine and smokes cigarettes, and we see her ashtray packed full of butts. Daniel remembers a “guy who smoke Camels” who also stole his girlfriend.
In the grip of addiction, Allison vomits on a bar floor.
Allison talks about the terrible impact her father’s abandonment of their family had on her. For instance, she once loved to swim and have her dad cheer her on. But when he left, that was one of the joys of her life that she abandoned. “Maybe some people just aren’t good,” she reasoned.
When we look honestly at the broken world around us, it’s easy to see why people are in pain, why some unfortunate souls sometimes tumble in hopeless directions. Moviemakers have often tried to capture that broken human condition on film. A Good Person is writer/director Zach Braff’s latest stab at that theme.
His movie is hard to watch at times. Its dialogue is rough and raw. And its story of terrible events and life-crushing addiction is almost too painful to take in. Certainly, too painful to enjoy. That fact alone will head many moviegoers off at the pass.
That said, there’s a message of hope hammered into this film’s tungsten-hard edges. Its performances are moving and immersive—particularly the gritty character choices of Florence Pugh and Morgan Freeman. They declare that with help, determination and profound effort, a struggling person might find a way through the bloody battlefield of life.
That’s not to say that you’ll find any uplifting spiritual revival in this cautionary pic. But you will find an emotional nudge toward the possibility of a new beginning.
And sometimes that’s a good first step.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.