Sundance 2023: Bad Behaviour, by David Bax
Alice Englert‘s Bad Behaviour is officially, as the title’s spelling suggests, a product of New Zealand. But most of the movie, as evidenced by the presence of Blue Lives Matter stickers and other present-day yank ephemera, takes place in the United States. But it starts off pretty evenly split. Lucy (Jennifer Connelly), a former television star and now kind of a floundering self-help addict, has checked in to some kind of spiritual retreat in the Pacific Northwest. Meanwhile, her daughter Dylan (Englert), a movie stuntwoman, is off on a lengthy film shoot half a world away in New Zealand. In a sense, then, both of them are away at adult versions of camp; the attendant remove from the world is the perfect excuse to have a crisis, a catharsis or both.
Englert, obviously, is an actor herself; she starred in 2013’s Beautiful Creatures. She is also the daughter of Jane Campion (who makes a brief cameo here), so directing is in her blood. But Bad Behaviour is more of an actor’s picture than a director’s and I mean that in the very best way possible. The New Zealand scenes focus largely on rehearsal while workshops at the retreat depend on a version of improvisation. So real life actors are playing actors/performers going about the business of acting. It’s fascinating to watch.
Englert’s skills both behind and in front of the camera have apparently also given her quite the knack for casting. You’ve got to give it up for any movie that has the sense to cast Ben Whishaw as a creepy little twerp as opposed to the world’s most gentle boy yet again. His Elon (ha!) is the guru of sorts who runs Lucy’s retreat. He’s pretty transparently full of shit from the beginning; sessions at the camp are being filmed for an upcoming promotional DVD and there’s a fully stocked merch table at all times in the main meeting room. Lucy, though, may or may not be too far gone into this world to see it.
That’s kind of burying the lede, though. The headline here really ought to be that this is pretty solidly the best performance of Connelly’s career. We can read in her face how Lucy’s almost eagerly allowing herself to be eaten alive by her own bitter unhappiness. And then Connelly turns Bad Behaviour firmly into dark comedy territory upon the late arrival at the retreat of a currently famous actress named Beverly (Dasha Nekrasova; however you may feel about her in the real world, she’s always great onscreen). Lucy’s failed attempts to hide her jealousy and hatred of Beverly lead directly to the movie’s bizarrely hilarious climax.
As a result of that boiling over on Lucy’s part, mother and daughter are finally reunited. As the film goes on–and especially once they’re sharing the same space–we can see how alike Lucy and Dylan are, alternating between guarded quietude and scorched earth screaming. Bad Behaviour, a movie directed by someone with a famous mother, wryly but poignantly asks what exactly is the matter with Lucy and if there’s any way for Dylan to escape the same fate.