Jennifer Connelly stars as Lucy, a former child actor who goes to a silent retreat led by guru Elon Bello (Ben Whishaw). This pilgrimage is full of nonsense activities, like guests pretending to be babies and mothers, and daily meetings, which are mostly taken over by the pretentious model, Beverly (Dasha Nekrasova)—much to the chagrin of Lucy. As Lucy seeks her own enlightenment, her daughter Dylan (Englert), a stunt person, is having her own adventures as she prepares for a fight sequence on the set of a movie in New Zealand.
Bad Behaviour mostly focuses on Lucy’s story, only dipping into Beverly’s journey intermittently. Throughout the film, Dylan’s side of things feels mostly irrelevant, never quite tying into the primary story we’re being shown. In the third act, these two stories tie into each other with some importance, but it never quite seems like we needed to follow Dylan’s point of view during this period.
Beverly’s story also feels rather directionless, as we’re shown scene after scene of relatively toothless commentary on this type of retreat: we get nonsense sayings from Elon Bello, characters that take this event far too seriously, and people like Lucy, who are just attempting to get something out of this event at all. When Lucy finds erupts in a way that finally gives this story some forward momentum about halfway through, the audience is also about ready to blow, as they’ve been waiting for some purpose in this exercise.
As Bad Behaviour gets into its third act, and Lucy and Dylan’s stories start to intertwine in a more meaningful way, it becomes a bit clearer what Englert’s story is trying to say, but also, this segment shows that Englert simply doesn’t know how to say it. Englert digs deeper into the history of Lucy and Dylan, a mother-daughter relationship that has been a struggle for years, as neither one knows how to handle the lives of the other. Lucy is seemingly cold and disconnected from her daughter’s needs, while Dylan struggles with her mother’s attitude that makes her feelings unclear. Englert’s dissection of this type of bond is occasionally interesting—especially considering that Englert’s mother is Jane Campion, who also makes a brief cameo—but this exploration drags into strange directions.
For example, Englert’s final act truly feels like she’s making these scenes up as she goes along, as she attempts to dive deeper into this relationship, while also putting these two in scenarios that make less and less sense. And while there is a certain amount of whimsy to Englert’s story, as Englert searches for her mother and what their relationship means, and an animated sequence shows a horrifying nightmare that takes on a plane, it all feels formless and improvised in a way that hurts this story. What began as a trip to an odd retreat becomes a series of scenes that don’t add up to much and feel like they were created in the moment.
Amongst all of this, however, are some fun performances that don’t have a problem with embracing the darker aspects of these characters. Connelly is having a lot of fun as a character who sometimes succumbs to her character’s, well, bad behavior, as we see just how self-involved and distracted she can be to those around her. Similarly, Englert is a joy to watch, especially when she’s on her own between filming in New Zealand, getting drunk by herself and talking to the empty bottles, or doing rolls in hotel hallways. Whishaw is also delightful as the nonsense-spewing guru, who often giggles to himself, almost as if he’s delighted by the things he’s making his followers do.
Englert’s script is also funny at times, but the flippant nature of the film and its inherent weirdness just makes these moments of humor feel like a brief respite from a film that weighs the audience down. But this is all thrown into a first feature from Englert that deeply feels like a first feature, a story that wants to examine the mother-daughter relationship in some way, but doesn’t bring anything new to the table, except a massive amount of directionless scenes and a script that continues long after the story should end—and with an added B-story centered around Englert that often feels unnecessary. Englert has talent, and there’s ambition and chunks here that work in bits and pieces, but unfortunately, Bad Behaviour is too scattered and too unfocused to add up to much at all.