Alice Englert acts in, writes and makes her filmmaking debut with this bold New Zealand-shot dramedy, starring opposite a phenomenal Jennifer Connelly.
November 09, 2023
With filmmaking in her blood, Alice Englert makes her directorial debut with a movie about a mother and daughter with cinema similarly pumping through their veins. The creative force behind Bad Behaviour is the offspring of Oscar-winner Jane Campion (The Power of the Dog) and fellow helmer Colin Englert (The Last Resort), but here focuses on actor Lucy (Jennifer Connelly, Top Gun: Maverick) and stunt performer Dylan (Englert herself). There's a knowing, winking vibe to this New Zealand-shot dramedy, then, including in the Labyrinth-starring Connelly playing a former child star, as she is; Campion popping up for a memorable cameo; and Bad Behaviour's writer/director taking on the progeny-to-a-household-name part. The internet ensures that avoiding Englert's family ties is impossible, so she wryly leans into everywhere that life can and does inspire art; however, this bold and involving spiritual retreat-set feature isn't about nudges and nods, or even built on them.
When there's evident parallels between what's on-screen and reality, a question springs: take all those links away and does the film still hit its marks? The answer for Englert's first stint behind the camera after acting in Ginger & Rosa, Beautiful Creatures, Campion's Top of the Lake, Them That Follow, Ratched, You Won't Be Alone and more is a resounding yes that could be shouted from the mountaintops. Bad Behaviour savvily satirises the wellness and enlightenment industry with the look of the also Aotearoa-made Nude Tuesday, but with a finely balanced understanding of its indulgences and its meaning to attendees. There's a glorious slice of The Lobster to the picture's tone, and not just because Ben Whishaw (Women Talking) features in both. Englert also constructs two phenomenal character studies, all while never being afraid to take wild turns that push everyone out of their comfort zones on- and off-screen.
Open to splashing cash but closed to almost everything except her own pain, Lucy is Loveland Ranch's latest arrival, hitting the Oregon venue seeking what everyone is paying for: bliss, peace, reassuring words, kindly ears, shoulders to lean on, a renewed sense of self and the knowledge that all is well. If Lucy also decamps to the remote spot amid towering ranges to escape her own complications, that won't be on the itinerary. A phone call en route teases what loiters elsewhere, with strain echoing down the line as she tells Dylan — who is in NZ working on a big film — where she's going. It takes time and a shocking-but-earned twist to get Lucy and Dylan in the same space in Bad Behaviour's second half, when they're each weathering their own mayhem while also sifting through shared baggage, and the tension and anxiety between them seethes with a lifetime's worth of fractures and fraying.
At Loveland, new-age sessions run by guru Elon Bello (Whishaw) are meant to get spiky, process trauma and demand hard work. That's even more true with its latest attendee, her dripping cynicism and her immediate distaste for self-obsessed model Beverly (Dasha Nekrasova, Succession). Everyone lapping up Elon's teachings has woes to wade through, with Lucy's distress at the path her life has taken since her heyday — she mentions a "warrior princess" role — just one problem put to the group. She's trying yet she's also igniting in a place where platitudes are doled out as wisdom and no one truly wants to do anything but hog the limelight. That the camp insists on silence between therapy chatter is an astute comic touch from Englert: the facility's customers gleefully believe that it'll help, purchasing the privilege of being told so and also struggling to comply; as scripted and portrayed, they'd also genuinely benefit from stopping to think through rather than natter about their emotions.
As Lucy is stuck in agonising mother-baby role-play classes that go as well as anyone would expect — although in Englert's hands, nothing plays out as anyone could anticipate — Dylan is on set. There, plying her trade, getting bruises for her efforts and sporting a crush are her daily minutiae. Penned with precision, both of Bad Behaviour's threads tease out details about its two central women, whether unpacking Lucy's unhappiness, guilt and contempt, or exploring why Dylan seeks peril professionally and personally alike. A mother-daughter reckoning is always coming, though. Englert not only makes the build-up and the fallout equally knotty, revelatory and compelling — she commandingly establishes the ins and outs of her two protagonists beyond the most important relationship in their lives.
More than four decades after her first-ever screen credit and two since winning the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for A Beautiful Mind, Connelly remains a reason to seek any project out. While she isn't Bad Behaviour's sole highlight, she's that good. Of late, she's been stellar in the TV version of Snowpiercer as well (also navigating uneasy parental bonds), but this film boasts one of her next-level performances. Stepping into Lucy's shoes is a go-for-broke effort to dive into the character's many complexities and conflicts, and Connelly is not only excellent but rivetingly raw and deeply resonant. She's also delightfully funny in the film's wry way. Englert has cast herself well, too, showing off her wit and empathy as an actor in a feature with no weak on-screen links, Whishaw, Ana Scotney (Millie Lies Low), Beulah Koale (Dual) and Marlon Williams (Sweet Tooth) among them.
References to Englert and Connelly's pasts aren't all that Bad Behaviour wears proudly, clearly; thorniness is embraced just as strongly and ambition gleams bright. There's no doubting that this picture is the product of someone who knows what she wants to dig into, shower around, contemplate, excavate, call out and laugh at — and that it's made by a filmmaker who is as certain of how she wants her feature to look and feel at every moment. As cinematographer Matt Henley (Coming Home in the Dark) takes in the surroundings, it isn't difficult to spot New Zealand standing in for Bad Behaviour's American half, although there's a fitting air to that to that move in this movie. Perspective is a core part of this emotionally lingering flick, as is seeing intricacies in multiple lights as Englert shines the torch.
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