Similar to the young girl with the curl in the famous poem, when this movie is great, it’s truly exceptional. However, when it’s not so great, well… the original words of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow describe it as “horrid,” but Bad Behaviour leans more towards being extremely uncomfortable and self-absorbed. Yet, the commendable choices made by writer-director-co-star Alice Englert in her first feature largely outweigh the missteps, and should be recognized.
Englert wisely chose Jennifer Connelly to play the lead role, and it proved to be a successful decision. Connelly delivers one of her strongest performances in recent years as Lucy, a former child star who is now consumed with anger and resentment towards her parents, ex-husband (never seen), and even her adult daughter Dylan (played by Englert) who is working as a stunt double in New Zealand. As the story starts, Lucy contacts Dylan from Oregon to inform her that she will be unreachable for some time as she checks into a retreat, but Dylan is preoccupied and the connection is poor.
During the retreat, led by guru Elon Bello (played by Ben Whishaw), Lucy has trouble sleeping and develops a strong disdain towards narcissistic model Beverly (played by Dasha Nekrasova). The dialogue, whether written by Englert or improvised by the cast, cleverly mocks pseudo-mystical jargon, but becomes unsettling when the story delves into Lucy’s genuine suffering, leading to a shocking act of violence.
The movie would have been a well-structured short if it had focused solely on the retreat and ended with the violence. However, Englert continuously cuts back to Dylan’s involvement on an unsatisfying film set where she engages in an affair with an actor and gets injured. The doctor who treats her, portrayed in only one scene, is actually Englert’s mother, director Jane Campion. Dylan returns to the US to support Lucy and their interactions resemble a realistic mother-daughter relationship before reaching an unnecessary epiphany. The latter half of the movie lacks direction and struggles to convey a message – although Connelly’s performance as an older woman filled with wit, energy, and sharpness is always captivating.