'Bad Behaviour' Review
January 28, 2023
Bad Behaviour premiered at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. It is currently seeking domestic distribution.
“Never give in to hope. Just be,” says Ben Whishaw’s mysterious spiritual self-help guru to a group of strangers that have gathered to solve their deepest and darkest problems. That Yoda-esque saying was primarily aimed towards Lucy (Jennifer Connelly), a former child actress who feels ashamed that she still lives a comfortable life from the money she earned from a trashy television series that was more interested in her body than her character. Attaining fame at an early age affects both the relationships in her past and future, namely with her parents, who clung onto her as a meal ticket, and her now-adult daughter Dylan, who entered the film industry by being a stunt performer.
It’s an extremely difficult tightrope walk to create unlikable and complicated characters that make you want to learn more about them and sympathize with their troubles. Only a single false action may tip the scales in the wrong direction, robbing the audience of an interesting study of the human experience. Unfortunately for writer/director/star Alice Englert, she doesn't make just one wrong move, she makes several over the course of this exponentially grating film about broken relationships.
Englert, daughter of famed filmmaker and most recent winner of the Academy Award for Best Director Jane Campion, packs a lot of ideas within Bad Behaviour, yet none of them come to fruition. Lucy is riddled with generational trauma passed down by her parents, who also made her feel like she wasn’t good enough. That abusive relationship instilled a deep depression, leading to a neglectful relationship with her daughter later on in life. Englert doesn’t provide much detail into the mother-daughter relationship, save for a few awkward phone calls and a tedious exposition dump later on. Much of the potentially intriguing ideas within her script follow that same trajectory. We’re told more than shown, with the telling coming across as a cop-out.
Connelly acts her heart out in the central role, but not in the most positive way. Her eccentric mannerisms and ticking-time-bomb attitude are always front and center, serving as a constant reminder of the artificiality of this character. Things only get worse as the narrative leans more into the absurd near the latter half, with implausible story beats and wild directorial flourishes taking away from any authentic emotion that could have been mined from this situation.
Bad Behaviour would at least be tolerable if the problems it had were interesting. But mostly it comes across as tedious and frustrating, making it far worse than it has any right to be on paper.