This article contains spoilers for A Good Person.
Zach Braff, the Emmy-award winning actor, writer and director known for his work on Scrubs and BoJack Horseman, spoke at a roundtable interview in Chicago about his newest film, A Good Person.
A Good Person follows Allison (Florence Pugh), a young woman whose engagement and life seem to shatter after surviving a car crash that killed her fiancé’s sister. In the aftermath of the tragedy, she struggles to overcome a subsequent drug addiction and face her grief, leading to an unexpected but heartwarming friendship with Daniel (Morgan Freeman), the father of her former fiancé.
“I really like to unravel the onion slowly for an audience,” Braff said. “I try and tease it out little by little. So then we do learn what [Allison’s] Rolex is about. Then we do learn Nathan’s secret. Then we do learn where she’s [swimming] laps and why she chose swimming as her means of exercise in rehab...”
As the film develops, audiences see an acute balance of heavy material with subtextual clues that crescendo in the kind of climax dramas are known for.
A Good Person deals with points of tension and moments of trauma through distinct flashes of layered vulnerability, grown over time through carefully-executed beats.
“There’s some movies to me that are so heavy and have no release,” Braff said. “I want to feel emotion, I want you to break my heart but I also want there to be a release. Like a piece of music … If you have denouements and you shake it up and you change it, then I can appreciate the heaviness more. I want you to make me laugh.”
This balance of comedy and heartache is infused at the core of the drama, something Braff emphasized as an intentional focus for a project with darker subject matter.
Braff said the film and the character of Allison were written specifically for Pugh, who read drafts of the script and gave notes on dialogue throughout the developmental process. The two worked together to rewrite a pivotal monologue for her character — one in which Allison breaks down in front of her rehab group and gives a heartbreaking testimony about everything she’s lost since her car crash.
When asked about his approach to writing, Braff spoke of taking his time to reveal the intricacies of each character over the course of the film.
“For Morgan [Freeman’s] character, you can infer [he] had an intense career as a New York City cop, [he’s] been an alcoholic for 50 years,” Braff said, contextualizing the use of his train motif throughout the film. “He was looking for a way to quiet his mind and make little pieces of this hobby [of model trains] be stories of his life that didn’t come out the way he wanted them to, little tableaus that came out better than they did.”
A Good Person both opens and closes with a voiceover of Freeman narrating over visuals of his model train set — a symbol of an elderly man controlling the world of a set of miniature trains after his own world has crumbled so uncontrollably.
He said with A Good Person, he chose to shape it into a film about relationships because of how powerful the relationships in the film are.
“My dream is you go out with your friends and your family and you talk about it,” Braff said. “You talk about your own experience and where it touched you and where it moved you … I hope it inspires people to go have a conversation.”
Thumbnail photo taken by Andres Buenahora.