Sundance 2023: Bad Behaviour Movie Review

Jennifer Connelly appears in Bad Behaviour by Alice Englert, an official selection of the World Dramatic Competition at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

Bad Behaviour

Sundance Film Festival World Cinema Dramatic Competition

Reviewed for by Abe Friedtanzer

Director: Alice Englert

Writer: Alice Englert

Cast: Jennifer Connelly, Ben Whishaw, Alice Englert and Dasha Nekrasova

Screened at: Park Avenue Theater, Park City, UT, 1/26/23

Opens: January 21st (World Premiere)

People tend to respond to situations in the way that works best for them. In group environments, that’s not always healthy or productive, and can in fact be quite detrimental. What one person needs in a specific moment can be the opposite of what someone else requires, and uncomfortable conflict can ensue. Bad Behaviour showcases the ultimate problem attendee at a silent retreat in a disjointed story about a mother and daughter both going through rough experiences half a world apart.

Lucy (Jennifer Connelly) arrives to an Oregon retreat center to participate in a program put on by guru Elon Bello (Ben Whishaw), and quickly develops a distaste for another attendee, a young model and DJ, Beverly (Dasha Nekrasova), who brings out all the negative feelings Lucy is trying to let go. In New Zealand, Lucy’s daughter Dylan (Alice Englert) works as a stuntwoman on a film set and forges a relationship with one of the primary players. The two women both fall into familiar, unpleasant patterns as their minds return to the fractured and complicated relationship that they’ve had over the years.

Bad Behaviour marks the directorial debut of Englert, an actress who stood out in an arc on Netflix’s Ratched and recently headlined the Starz series Dangerous Liaisons. Her first effort behind the camera does showcase two true personalities who are prone to vehemently express themselves even when the moment is not appropriate. Their paths don’t feel all that connected, however, and it’s difficult to find a strong relation between the two separate journeys in the film’s first two acts. Both women seem set on self-sabotaging even though they might otherwise be set up for success, and it doesn’t feel as if their bond and history is what’s guiding them towards failure.

Connelly, who won an Oscar two decades ago for a superb performance in A Beautiful Mind, comes at Lucy with a viciousness that manifests itself without warning. She’s quietly judgmental and then at times bursts out with anger and aggression that hasn’t necessarily been provoked by the receiving party. It’s a turn that’s equally magnetic and inconsistent, since it’s hard to get into Lucy’s head and understand her character. Dylan is more expressive and readable, delighting in her stunt work and showing off her skills, and there is a sense that she gets too into what she does, not quite fulfilling what’s being asked if her in all cases. 

Many of the film’s scenes take place at the retreat, while contains elements that don’t feel entirely safe or healthy for participants. It also feels, as Lucy’s unsubtle facial expressions convey, that much of it is completely made up and without substance, like an exercise in which partners are supposed to pretend to be babies and mothers. Whishaw, who also stars in another project at Sundance this year, Passages, embodies Elon with a pretentiousness that frequently gives in to annoyance and a lack of patience with his yet-to-be-enlightened clientele. Lucy does seem to be the most volatile presence there, lashing out repeatedly at Beverly, but there’s also something distinctly suspicious and not quite right about this worshipped guru.

While it begins with intrigue that begs the question of exactly what Lucy and Dylan have been through that have brought them to this place of being so far apart, this film doesn’t deliver. It feels as if there is no clear destination, and the uncertain journeys they are both on have no direction. It makes for an unsatisfying viewing experience that features a few puzzling tangents, including a bizarre animated sequence that comes from out of nowhere with no explanation at all. There is a blueprint of a worthwhile story here with three-dimensional characters, but the finished product is severely lacking.

107 minutes

Story: C

Acting: B-

Technical: C+

Overall: C

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