SF IndieFest 2013
By Don Simpson | February 4, 2013
Director: Todd Looby
Writer: Todd Looby
Starring: Thomas J. Madden, Amy Seimetz, Todd Looby, Joe Swanberg, Paul Gordon, Kathryn Henderson, Quentin Hirsley, Jim Jacob
Writer-director Todd Looby’s Be Good begins as Mary (Amy Seimetz) prepares to return to work after being on an abbreviated maternity leave. Since Mary’s husband Paul (Thomas J. Madden) works from home as an independent filmmaker, he will watch the baby while Mary works.
Paul begins his first day of solo parenting with a naive air of self-confidence. He plops the baby on the floor of his office and begins working on his screenplay. It does not take very long before Paul discovers that solo parenting is not as easy as it looks, especially when the baby requires constant attention and refuses to sleep. Paul is only able to write for brief spurts of time, primarily whenever Mary is home from work. Of course this means even less restful downtime for Paul, making him an exhausted ball of stress; it also means that Mary and Paul have no alone time together.
Paul’s friends stop by on occasion to help him as much as they can. TJ (Todd Looby), for one, is not shy to offer plenty of advice to Paul, despite the fact that he is single, childless and a stoner; but regardless of his lack of expertise in parenting, TJ is at least able to give Paul a chance to communicate with another adult once in a while. If only Paul would listen to TJ more…
The one person to whom Paul might listen is Joe (Joe Swanberg). Basically, Joe is in the exact same situation as Paul but has somehow discovered the secret to being able to make eight (or seven, depending on who you ask) films in the last year, while simultaneously raising a newborn. Of course, Joe is just really lucky that his baby is a good sleeper; and Joe has also made a modest income from some of his films.
All the while, Mary is unhappily separated from her baby. The last place in the world that she wants to be is at work, where she could easily be walked in on while using her breast pump in the storage closet. So, an unhealthy jealousy begins to develop between Mary and Paul — Mary wants to be at home with their baby and Paul wants time alone so he can work.
The financial imbalance of their household also becomes apparent. Mary is the only breadwinner; Paul has a resume of independent films that have been successful on the festival circuit but generates no revenue for his family. Their economic insecurity begins to infuriate Mary; if only Paul could generate some income, she would be able spend more time at home with their baby.
Be Good does an excellent job of openly and honestly reflecting upon the existential struggle of parenting. As Mary and Paul quickly discover, babies can bring about an unexpected maturation process and quickly change one’s priorities in life. One important lesson to be learned from Be Good is to maintain a healthy balance in your life. You will need to make sacrifices for your family, but do not let that destroy your life, otherwise you will end up resenting your significant other, or — even worse — your child. I have observed many friends go through very similar situations and Be Good is one of the most truthful and realistic cinematic depictions that I have seen.
Looby is also able to integrate a very frank and thoughtful discussion on the state of independent filmmaking into the mix. Without sounding too whiny or preachy, Looby explains the financial and familial struggles of independent filmmakers; because unless you survive off of a trust fund — or are in some other way independently wealthy — independent filmmaking is a very tough career path. First and foremost, filmmakers may get a warped sense of their actual worth as an artist by garnering film festival (and critical) acclaim; but, unless their film actually gets a decent distribution deal, they will probably never see any financial return from their hard work. Unfortunately, success in the film festival world does not equate to financial success.
Audiences tend to perceive filmmakers differently than other types of aspiring artists, probably because they are aware that even micro-budget films require a significant investment of time and money. So, audiences probably assume that filmmakers must be making some sort of income if they are willing to repeatedly take these huge risks. The reality of the situation is that very few filmmakers (and actors) can actually make a living off of their craft, no matter how talented they are. The more the market becomes over-saturated with independent films, the less likely the chance for success (which in many cases just means breaking even). I watch countless independent films per year, and most of my favorite films never see the light of day. It is a depressing situation that really needs to change…one way or another.