BAD BEHAVIOUR – Review by Betsy Pickle

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I can think of two reasons why directors like to work on projects set in the world of moviemaking: It’s a milieu that’s familiar to them, and it’s a genre that audiences seem to enjoy.

That’s especially true when a movie pokes fun at celebrity foibles and bad behavior that appear to have real-life inspiration.

Bad Behaviour avoids the supposed glamor of filmmaking and operates on the edges of that scene. It has some of the trappings of the genre, but it skews dark and throws a net over a variety of issues that affect celebrities and regular folks alike.

Australian writer-director Alice Englert has a legit movie background – she’s been acting for more than 15 years, and she’s the daughter of director Jane Campion, who won an Oscar for her script for The Piano (and received her trophy while she was pregnant with Alice). This is her feature-helming debut.

She cast herself as Dylan, the daughter of Lucy (Jennifer Connelly), who in her teens was the star of a hit fantasy TV show. Connelly, of course, launched her 40-year (so far) career at age 10 in director Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America (1984), so she knows something about becoming famous at an early age.

The setting is important because the story swings between the real and the imagined, sober fantasy and shocking reality. Oh, and Bad Behaviour also has a cheeky sense of humor, both light and gruesome. But the core of the story is a mother-daughter relationship, which is relatable on an Everywoman scale.

Lucy and Dylan have a complicated history. In her 40s, Lucy is still trying to find herself. She is making her way to a somewhat “silent” retreat in Oregon headed by popular modern philosopher (or possibly con man) Elon Bello (Ben Whishaw) when she calls Dylan to tell her she will be unreachable for a few days. Meanwhile, Dylan is working in New Zealand as a stuntwoman on a film, her phone signal is about to disappear, and calling her mother was the last thing on her mind.

Naturally, “narcissist” is the first opinion viewers form of Lucy, but there’s much more. When she parks at the retreat site and leaves her window down in the rain, the label “ditzy” also comes to mind.

But it’s not really fair to make snap judgments of Lucy when all the other characters are so messed up. At least Lucy appears to be trying to do something to improve herself.

While Lucy attempts to blend in with the conceit of the retreat, Beverly (Dasha Nekrasova) waltzes in with all the entitlement the model/DJ believes she deserves. Beverly is, as Lucy says, a very annoying person (VAP, perhaps short for vapid, as opposed to VIP).

As Lucy deals with the demons from her past, Dylan literally lets herself get punched around by demons on set. Her enthusiasm for her stunt duties hints at a level of self-hating masochism, and it doesn’t help that she’s being pummeled by an attractive stuntman, Elmore (Marlon Williams).

Some might call Englert’s script ambitious – others might choose the word scattershot. There are definitely some concepts that are more successful than others in reaching a conclusion. There are also scenes that land somewhat on the dull side, but Englert has a knack for punctuating them with action and language that come in from the opposite angle.

Connelly calls on skills that aren’t her usual tools. Her Lucy is not an instantly likable person, and some viewers may not find any empathy for her at all. Connelly’s brittle, intense portrayal is fascinating, though, and you can feel the wheels turning in Lucy’s brain. Physically, Connelly is at her most gaunt, her translucent skin barely covering the veins in her forehead, adding to the presentation of a person who is suffering just as much as she makes those around her suffer. The actor’s earnestness emphasizes her intensity, but she is equally adept at conveying Lucy’s offbeat sense of humor.

Englert avoids sentimentality with Dylan as well. Dylan is tough, like a wild animal, but Englert makes it obvious that she’s craving emotional release and connections. It’s impressive to consider she achieved this fine acting performance while also serving as director.

Three other standouts in the cast are Whishaw, Beulah Koale as Dion and Karan Gill as Leonard. Whishaw (Q in the Daniel Craig-James Bond films) is his usual brilliant self as the mysterious Elon, while Koale and Gill bring much-needed decent-guy vibes.

As its title suggests, Bad Behaviour is not a rainbow-and-unicorn mother-daughter story, but it’s a winning one. At least, it is for those ready for a movie whose theme is “Don’t give in to hope.”

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Betsy Pickle

Betsy Pickle is a freelance film critic and journalist. She was the film critic at the Knoxville News Sentinel from May 1985 to November 2008. A Knoxville native, she graduated from the University of Tennessee with a B.S. in communications. In 1992, Betsy co-founded the Southeastern Film Critics Association, a group that has grown to more than 40 members in nine states. She served as SEFCA's president 2001-2004. She is a past member of the advisory council of the Tennessee Film, Entertainment and Music Commission and has served as a judge at the Nashville Film Festival, the Asheville Film Festival and the late and lamented Valleyfest Film Festival. Her reviews and features have appeared in newspapers from Atlanta to Anchorage and Stuart, Fla., to Sacramento, Calif.