We were very impressed with writer and director Zach Braff’s 2004 spunky romantic comedy Garden State in which a shut-down man is transformed by an enthusiastic young woman; it was wonderful to watch him come alive due to the good medicine of her presence.
In Braff’s inspiring and spiritually edifying second film, he takes on the challenge of exploring the complicated virtue of human goodness. Despite our living in a world of twisted violence, unending suffering, and ever-present tragedies, we can identify with the poet Walt Whitman who admitted: “I am larger, better than I thought; I did not know I held so much goodness.”
Allison (Florence Pugh) is a pharmaceutical rep and singer/songwriter who is riding a wave of happiness at a party celebrating her upcoming marriage to Nathan (Chinaza Uche). But soon after, she is driving a car to go look at wedding dresses with Molly (Nichelle Hines) and Jesse (Toby Onwumere), her sister-in-law and brother-in-law to be. While checking directions on her cell phone, she is unable to stop the car before it plows into another vehicle turning onto the road. Her two passengers are killed.
Paralyzed by guilt and plunged into depression, Allison breaks off her engagement and, in order to numb physical and psychological pain, escapes into addiction to opioids. She lives with her mother (Molly Shannon) who is convinced that all her daughter needs is a new job and a circle of friends to help pull her through.
I am glad for all the good that is in me, while I struggle against what is not.
- Robert Raines quoted in A Forgiving Heart by Lyn Klug
Ryan (Celeste O’Connor), the teenage daughter of the couple who were killed, has been living with her grandfather Daniel (Morgan Freeman). Although this retired policeman has been sober for a decade, he still attends AA meetings. There he meets Allison again, and the two get reacquainted through the program; he even invites her to his house to see the model train set he has built over the years.
Dealing with addiction is hard. Fortunately, Allison knows that she needs help. The meetings enable Daniel to cope with Ryan’s anger which she expresses toward him and Allison. Then, surprisingly, Ryan decides that she wants to get to know Allison. These three trade kindnesses as they gradually face their grief, practice forgiveness, and discover their inherent goodness. We find ourselves rooting for all of them.
There are many lessons in this touching film. Wayne Muller, who has written about how people connect, puts one of them this way:
“We are never alone in our suffering. The pain of being human is shared by all who live.”
A Good Person is a poignant drama which reveals that goodness has spiritual consequences.