‘Enough about ME… What do you think about ME??!!’ Never let it be said that actors are a selfish lot that ONLY care about themselves, they care about what their kids think about them, too! At least, that’s just one of the things we learn in Writer/Director Alice Englert’s Directorial Debut, ‘Bad Behaviour’ at Sundance Film Festival, 2023.
Jennifer Connelly delivers a simultaneously hilarious and heartbreaking performance as a former teenage TV Star, struggling to adapt to adulthood and parenthood in the 21st century. Along the way, we see what the extremes of fame can do to the famous and famous-adjacent alike.
The Plot — Bad Behaviour
Meet Lucy. You may remember her from her TV Show ‘Flora The Fierce’? She was that teenage warrior, sort of like a young Xena, Warrior Princess type? Well, it’s been a while…
Lucy, played by Jennifer Connolly, still works; but the whole ‘former child actor’ thing has left its fair share of scars, emotional and otherwise. That’s why Lucy is taking some ‘Me’ time at this retreat in Oregon.
Lucy listens to one of Elon Bello’s many motivational tapes as she drives to the retreat. ‘Being Lost’ is her opportunity to do a digital detox; a ‘semi-silent’ getaway from the technology that dominates our lives — led by Elon himself.
‘You are not lost. You are not broken.’ Elon repeats the phrase over and over. Before checking in, Lucy calls her daughter, Dylan.
Dylan doesn’t have much time to talk, as she’s a stuntwoman preparing for an action scene, and the movie set is in the middle of nowhere. The phone goes dad — bad reception as BOTH are in the middle of nowhere.
After Lucy checks in, she calls Dylan one last time. Dylan doesn’t want Lucy to worry, because Lucy’s worrying stresses DYLAN out. So selfish!
Lucy attends her first group therapy session. Plenty of sharing going on, but nothing Lucy hasn’t heard before. DJ and world-famous model Beverly shares her worst fears, eventually turning 40! Gasp! Lucy’s shaming encourages everyone to ask Lucy to share! Dagnabit!
Lucy shares her story: TV star, parents didn’t love her, she doesn’t love herself… Then again, sometimes she’s just a C-word. Elon asks if anyone else can relate. We don’t see anyone’s reaction, but we do see Lucy. It is, afterall, ALL about Lucy!
The Good — Bad Behaviour
The spoiled actor/actress trope has been played out many times before, but very few balance laughing WITH and AT a character like Lucy as well as Jennifer Connelly.
In an almost seamless performance, Connelly slips easily between the character we laugh with, and the character we laugh at. At the same time, she slips between the character we dramatically feel for, and the character we side against.
Very rarely have I seen a performance where the actor or actress switches between those four distinctly different perspectives with the audience as well as Jennifer Connelly with Lucy. And, she often shifts these performances/perspectives within the same scene. You laugh with her one moment, and laugh at her the next.
As Beverly shares her feelings during the Group Therapy session how she knows how beautiful she is, it’s impossible not to roll your eyes along with Lucy at Beverly’s vanity. But, when Beverly clocks the room and remembers Lucy hasn’t shared, the tables turn.
Lucy takes center stage and recounts growing up with parents who could never stay happy, and she, by extension, could never stay happy. We see Lucy as the spoiled little TV star one minute, and the next a girl whose parents failed her. The turns happen on a dime, and Jennifer Connelly’s performance in each of those moments is spot on.
Later, we see Lucy interacting with her own daughter. We hear how her own failings as a Mother affected Dylan, passing on the pain from one generation to the next. But, the energy changes yet again, when Lucy tells Dylan to forgive Dylan, so that Dylan can forgive Lucy.
It’s the ultimate “Enough about me. Now, what do YOU think about me.” moment. Even when Lucy makes it about Dylan, she’s STILL making it all about Lucy.
Alice Englert — Dylan
Alice Englert cast herself as Lucy’s Daughter, Dylan. I gotta be honest, I don’t think I’ve seen Alice Englert’s acting work before, but I’m highly impressed by her on screen work in Bad Behaviour.
When I look up and down Englert’s IMDb page, I only recognize a few of her projects, and I haven’t taken the time to watch even those. She plays ‘Nurse Dolly’ for 6 episodes in ‘Ratched’, Netflix’s streaming show on Nurse Ratched from One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. And, she played ‘Buster’ in the Oscar Nominated ‘The Power Of The Dog’, but even when I Google her for that movie, no pictures come up; and I don’t remember seeing her in the flick.
The ultimate triple threat, Englert literally puts herself in harm’s way, doing some of her own stunts. Dylan is a stuntwoman, after all, and we see Englert as Dylan doing a fight scene with a full grown man, taking some pretty serious hits in a stunt gone wrong.
Englert carries her own story for the first half of the movie, then shares scenes with the Oscar Nominated Jennifer Connolly in the second half. We see Dylan bruised and battered physically, mentally, and emotionally. Even as Dylan comes to the aid of Lucy, Lucy cares more for herself than her own daughter.
Through Dylan, we see the reflected light of fame and fortune, and the toll that spotlight takes on the actress and her family. Dylan struggles to build a name for herself behind the scenes of the entertainment business, literally and figuratively taking bruises as she tries to build a career under her own name and energy.
While young, Dylan isn’t THAT young; but still makes all the same mistakes younger entertainers make in the entertainment business. Englert’s nuanced performance really shows us the fine line she must walk. And, that her mistakes have consequences in a business where EVERYONE is replaceable.
Alice Englert — Writer/Director
Alice Englert makes her Feature Film Directorial Debut in ‘Bad Behaviour’.
Englert acts opposite Connelly, but manages to keep her focus as Director at the same time. The dysfunctional dynamic between mother and daughter feels real in these scenes, as Englert the Director keeps the film focused and moving along at a good pace.
Englert, the Director, manages to translate Englert, the Writer’s brilliant script into a film where we laugh at and laugh with, and empathize at and empathize with Lucy. We see the extremes of wealth, success, and fame taking a toll on Lucy one minute. And, we see Lucy’s responsibility to herself and others regardless of the wealth, success and fame the next.
As Director, she shows us how all encompassing the toll on Lucy can be, but also Lucy’s culpability and responsibility is to the situation, too. The focus and responsibility shifts not just scene to scene, but moment to moment. This is such a hard balance to maintain, but the Director maintains it brilliantly, and shows the interplay between these power dynamics.
Each character in Englert’s script has such a unique and clear voice, even the supporting characters. This results in all the characters being clearly defined, and the conversations between them popping. The conversations and character arcs feel real, and change dynamically as we go through the film.
We even get what feels like two separate movies in one — the first half, with two side by side storylines; and the second half, when the two lead characters come together during a time of great conflict. This all happens seamlessly, but gives very different perspectives for Lucy and Dylan, mother and daughter.
Ben Whishaw as Elon Bello
You might best know Ben Whishaw as ‘Q’, James Bond’s Quartermaster in the Daniel Craig 007 movies. In Bad Behaviour, Whishaw plays self-help guru Elon Bello, author of books and tapes, and proprietor of a digital detox retreat in Oregon.
Elon is our spiritual guard, our wiseman, our enlightened one who helps guide those who are lost. And, for those with enough money, Elon will do it in person. He’ll do it in person, as long as you don’t mind letting him film your deepest darkest secrets, and then sell them to the public as proof his methods work. What a guy!
Elon’s main mantra is “You are not lost. You are not broken.” The kind of quote that sells well on coffee mugs, T-Shirts, and self-help books; ‘You are not lost’ fuels Elon business, and sounds especially profound when calmly read with Whishaw’s esteemed British accent. Americans are suckers for a British accent, and there are plenty of suckers signed up for Elon’s ‘Being Lost…’ retreat.
Whishaw’s role as spiritual guru plays on tons of stereotypes, both good and bad. What’s fascinating about Whishaw’s portrayal of Elon the Guru is the balance and depth he gives the character in relatively little screen time.
We see Elon doling out his vague words of wisdom, appearing to listen to his followers; but really just parroting back their words, and making them find the deeper meaning themselves. He’s got it down to a fine art — a performance art, to be sure. But, even Elon feels the weight of playing the same role over and over again, for such a long time.
Ben Whishaw does a great job showing the cracks in the armor, and how Lucy the seasoned retreat-goer is the only one experienced enough to see through the charade. Not a fake, but not quite the genuine article; Whishaw adds depth to the role without pulling back the curtain entirely.
The Review — Bad Behaviour
Lucy’s no stranger to seeking enlightenment. She has been rich and famous for a few decades, after all.
You can tell, right away, Lucy has been chanting these mantras for a while. And, she still does all the legwork to enlightenment, even though none of it lasts forever.
Lucy respects the process enough to realize you get out of it what you’re willing to put into it. But, she’s also slightly cynical as to the progress people are actually making under Elon’s tutelage. She knows the whole ‘Halleluyah, I’m healed!’ thing might be people telling themselves something is working, before they know whether it is or it isn’t.
This grayscale look at what seems like a black and white issue plays out perfectly under Writer/Director Alice Englert and lead actress Jennifer Connelly. We constantly shift from one angle to another, one take to another; playing different perspectives off of each other, to get the most authentic look at this story as possible.
Englert gives each character a perfectly defined and distinct voice and purpose; making the character’s perspectives in each scene ring true. Whether it’s the younger, prettier ‘Beverly’ played by Dasha Nekrasova, supplanting Lucy as the prettiest woman in the room. Or even ‘Petunia’, played by Ana Scotney, as Elon’s Personal Assistant/True Believer; each of our characters is a distinct puzzle piece that fits together perfectly to tell our tale of bad luck, and ‘Bad Behaviour’. Ah, see what I did there!
We get beautiful lighting and camera angles making the dark rooms and overcast skies of this rural Oregon setting (shot in New Zealand) pop off the screen in stunning Cinematography work by Matt Henley. The strong visuals add to the depth and texture of the story, giving the film movement and meaning.
This is the kind of movement that could easily stagnate such an internalized story like this in the hands of a lesser Director or Cinematographer. But, all elements of Bad Behaviour work well together to tell this dynamic and heartbreaking story.
Absolutely worth watching! Watch ‘Bad Behaviour’ the first chance you get, whether that’s in theaters or On Demand/Streaming!