Mr. Mom redux
Local film looks at the new face of fatherhood
06/20/2012 10:00 PM
The joys, laughs, hopes, struggles, tears and fears that hitch rides with babies when they enter this world are relatable to all, whether a parent or not. They’re universal concerns. And they make for good cinema.
From Father of the Bride to Roman Polanski’s latest, Carnage, movies have examined parenthood from all sides. The world of single and stay-at-home dads has been grossly underrepresented, though. There are stand-outs — Chaplin’s The Kid, To Kill a Mockingbird, Kramer vs. Kramer, Mr. Mom and others — but most representations fall far from reality (yes, Three Men and a Baby, we’re looking at you). A new, locally-produced film opening at the Gene Siskel Film Center on Friday offers a bright alternative.
Directed by Todd Looby and filmed throughout the city’s North Side, Be Good follows new parents Paul (Thomas J. Madden) and Mary (Amy Steinmetz) as they adjust to a new life with baby Pearl. In a modern role reversal, Mary opts to return to work after maternity leave while Paul cares for Pearl at home while focusing on his filmmaking, specifically a screenplay that he hopes will launch his career full steam.
The plan hits snags.
Mary hates being separated from her baby during the day. She becomes withdrawn and depressed. Paul has difficulty balancing childcare and creative pursuits. Communications break down between the couple. Their sex life suffers. Distance grows. They argue. And in the middle sits Pearl, oblivious to the gap growing between her parents.
Paul struggles to place himself in this new scenario. He feels alone. Lost in a world where selfless love must trump pursuits that some may deem selfish. This notion burrows itself deep, causing Paul to doubt himself as an artist, husband and father. His existential crisis is father and artist specific, but anyone who has had to shift identities due to circumstances beyond their control will identify.
Be Good follows a familiar trajectory. The events that transpire aren’t surprising, though a slight supernatural occurrence and a tense, amped climax spice up the often languid pace. The film’s saving grace is its small moments.
Everyday intimacies — conversations between friends, family playtime in the park, singing a baby to sleep, breastfeeding in a quiet corner at work — are observed with a documentary-like eye. Looby’s camera doesn’t force its way into these situations. It observes.
Interactions between Paul, Mary, the baby and friends who breeze into their life (including Chicago filmmaker Joe Swanberg, who stars as himself) add to the authenticity. They’re real. This success is a testament to Be Good’s excellent cast. They don’t act, but live their roles. Highly recommended.