TIFF Journal: ‘I Am a Good Person / I Am a Bad Person’

Over the course of their careers, most major directors will at some point complain that they wish to leave the Hollywood studio system behind to concentrate on “small, personal films,” but then don’t bother to follow through. There’s no money in it, you see. Nonetheless, there are actually filmmakers out there producing those small, personal movies. Unfortunately, few of them ever get wide distribution. Your best (and sometimes only) chance to see them is at film festivals. At last year’s TIFF, I stumbled onto the works of Canadian actress/director Ingrid Veninger, whose charming ‘Modra‘ turned out to be a festival favorite of mine. She’s back this year with a new film that’s something of a follow-up.

In ‘I Am a Good Person / I Am a Bad Person’, Veninger herself stars as Ruby, a small-time independent filmmaker whose movies play to tiny festival audiences. Traveling to Europe to promote her latest effort, Ruby decides to bring along her 18-year-old daughter Sara (Hallie Switzer, the director’s real-life daughter and star of ‘Modra’) as an assistant. After a disastrous reception in England, Ruby starts to behave like an obnoxious teenager – staying out late, drinking and clubbing – while her more mature daughter just wants to relax and maybe take in a museum or two.

This results in some inter-personal strife, until the two decide to part company so that Sara can visit a cousin in Paris while her mother goes alone to the next festival in Germany. The more time they spend apart, the more they each reflect on their own personal dilemmas – Ruby about her failing marriage, and Sara about the results of a pregnancy test.

The movie would seem to be at least somewhat based on Veninger’s real experiences promoting ‘Modra’ and earlier works. How much of it is actually autobiographical, I can only guess. Ruby is a lot less successful than Veninger really is, and the director isn’t afraid to show her in an unflattering light. We’re first introduced to the character in a really uncomfortable moment, and she spends far too much time discussing her bowel movements (or lack thereof).

The film is funny without being overtly a comedy, and dramatic without ever getting too heavy. Mostly, it’s just a pleasant trip spent in the company of some interesting people, and it never pretends to me more than that. Movies like this are needed every once in a while.

Rating: ★★★½☆

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