Credit: Matt Henley
by Grace Boschetti Featured Film Horizon Line

Bad Behaviour — Alice Englert

June 12, 2024

Enough time has passed that it’s possible for one to feel vaguely nostalgic about the myriad young adult film franchises, and would-be franchises, that sprung up in the wake of Harry Potter and Twilight. The southern-gothic-lite Beautiful Creatures (2013) is one such artifact; the first of a planned tetralogy that never came to fruition. Co-leading an impressively stacked supporting cast — which included Viola Davis, Jeremy Irons, and Emma Thompson — alongside a charismatic Alden Ehrenreich, Alice Englert, daughter of Jane Campion, was only 18 at the time of the film’s release. With Bad Behaviour, Englert makes her feature debut as a writer-director, demonstrating verve and an assurance that belies her still young age, but also an imperfect command of the finer details.

In Bad Behaviour’s opening moments, former child star Lucy (a committed Jennifer Connelly), on route to a semi-silent wellness retreat, gives her daughter Dylan (Englert), a stunt performer on production in New Zealand, an ill-timed phone call. The fact Lucy’s ostensibly Pacific Northwest surroundings also feel distinctly like New Zealand slightly undercuts the sense of a vast emotional and physical distance between mother and daughter. The impression is further cemented with the appearance of New Zealander Petunia (Ana Scotney), who welcomes Lucy to the ranch.

For years, Lucy has been searching for “something more” than happiness: a state of permanent spiritual enlightenment. It’s this desire that has led her to the slippery lap of guru Elon (Ben Whishaw, whose distinctively lovely voice is well employed). So while Dylan throws herself headfirst into her work, and a brief, painful affair with a co-worker, Lucy grapples with decades worth of emotional baggage — the specifics of which is needlessly revealed in a clunky text message exchange. Rather than relieving herself of her anxieties and negative self-image, however, Lucy finds herself clashing with model, DJ, and fellow enlightenment-seeker Beverly (Dasha). It is this vexation that precipitates the film’s genuinely surprising turn, leading to an unscheduled reunion of mother and daughter which serves as an opportunity for Lucy to find the words she has long withheld and, in turn, for Dylan to offer her mother grace.

While evidently drawing from a desire for thorny, complicated women to be honestly represented on screen, Englert doesn’t always manage to elicit in viewers the degree of interest that she seems to feel for her central female characters. Beverley, in particular, is lacking in a dimension that might render her as anything more than a tedious caricature of narcissistic youth. As Dylan, Englert provides both levity and vulnerability, but many of her early scenes feel superfluous to the overall story. Connelly is quite impressive in a role that demands a great deal of her, but is also so thinly sketched as to be mostly unknowable. Though often funny, and with moments of daring, Bad Behaviour is just too haphazard to really hang together, and is generally rather grating. There is clear ambition and obvious skill in Englert’s direction of her performers, and it feels like she likely has a better film in her. Being in the immensely rare and fortunate position that she is, that opportunity will likely come, and there’s enough promise here to hope that lessons learned are carried forward.

DIRECTOR: Alice Englert;  CAST: Jennifer Connelly, Ben Whishaw, Alice Englert, Dasha;  DISTRIBUTOR: Gravitas Ventures;  IN THEATERS/STREAMING: June 14;  RUNTIME: 1 hr. 47 min.