“Bad behavior” is an incoherent mother-daughter nightmare

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“You are a toxic nightmare,” one character spits into it Bad behavior to Lucy (Jennifer Connelly), and in many ways it’s an accurate assessment of the divorced mother. Alas, you hear and see Lucy’s woes much more than you understand, and that failing proves to be symbolic of New Zealand actress Alice Englert’s first directorial effort, which aims to take a closer look at mother-daughter relationships through a darkly comic lens and only comes with grating incoherence.

Debuts this year at the Sundance Film Festival in the World Cinema Dramatic Competition. Bad behavior sidesteps the table setting from the start, except for a brief phone call between Lucy in Oregon and her twenty-something daughter Dylan (Englert) in New Zealand, in which both pretend to be too busy to talk before the call mercifully cuts off.

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This implies that their relationship is so strained that both physical and emotional estrangement occurs. However, it is not until much later that anything resembling clarity about their situation emerges. Even worse, when they finally get back together, things only get a little bit clearer, and only in regards to details; the exposé the two spout as they argue about past conflicts fills in some elementary blanks, if hardly gives a real sense of their fraught dynamic.

The core of the duo’s problems seems to be that Lucy was a bad mother due to her depression and the resulting detachment and callousness – all of which was caused by Lucy’s acrimonious relationship with her own mother. To deal with her nagging discontent, Lucy has embarked on the latest in a long series of retreats, this time to a remote rural retreat where she and others spend time at a seminar entitled “Get Lost with Elon Bello.”

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As played by Ben Wishaw, Elon is a gentle sage who takes turns sitting his paying students in a chair opposite him and divulging their deep, dark, shameful secrets. For Lucy, that has to do with feeling unloved and abandoned by those closest to her, as well as a vague dissatisfaction with being forced to pursue a Hollywood career as a teenager that resulted in a short starring role in a popular warrior girl. show.

That detail seems relevant at the moment, but like most aspects of Bad behavior, it’s a potentially intriguing thread that gets thrown out almost immediately. Instead of giving some basic information about Lucy, Englert instead tries to convey who she is by spending time in her company.

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What’s clear is that she’s a frightened, troubled gang who craves the relief Elon promises – and says in a quiet one-on-one conversation at some garbage cans that he’s achieved it – yet not against this enclave can, where participants are asked to explore themselves through candid sharing and long periods of silence. The fact that everyone here is a gullible dope in disarray is hard to miss, even for Lucy, who is particularly annoyed by perfume model Beverley (Dasha Nekrasova), who quickly reciprocates her antipathy.

While Bad behavior pits Lucy against Beverly, notably in a group conversation marked by competitive New Age chatter, it also goes back to New Zealand where Dylan is working on a fantasy film with a catchy colleague as a stunt professional.

Photo by Corey Nickols/Getty Images for IMDb

As epitomized by Englert, Dylan is an impulsive, irritable young woman who isn’t afraid to take a few bumps and bruises and is content to flirt with her co-worker, throw herself around with semi-reckless abandon and her treat injuries with ice packs. and drink. Although Englert wrote and plays the character, Dylan feels as half-formed as Lucy, and she doesn’t even develop when two characters suffer simultaneous (albeit different) calamities that force them to reconnect and reconcile in the process.

Those violent parallel incidents are supposedly meant to be funny, but as with so much Bad behaviorthe tone Englert goes for remains elusive, and more than a little baffling, with Lucy’s caustic belligerence and Dylan’s fear (which has ostensibly driven her to her gritty profession) never resonating as genuine.

Much of that is the by-product of the writer/director’s meandering script, which is both in-your-face and frustratingly oblique. There’s a lot of grumbling, raging, and brooding going on in Oregon and New Zealand, and it all comes across as the kind of theatricality on the surface that makes for a good trailer but falls short in a story that lacks form, depth, and momentum.

Come off Top gun: MaverickConnelly is doing a whole lot of emotion, her body language alternately coiled and flustered, and her face in a perpetual state of uneasiness, whether she’s staring at idiotic companions, seething at a bright light that won’t stop flickering just outside her room window, or rolling her eyes at Elon, who soon passes himself off as a charlatan with nothing but stolen hot air to dish out.

An exercise in which everyone pretends to be a mother or baby underlines that Lucy is both the hideous monster she claims to be and, deep down, a wounded child. However, for all her enormous effort, Connelly can’t make her unlikely lead compelling as her acting shows at just about every turn. Her performance is a case of effort that undermines authenticity.

Bad behaviorThe third act of Act Three is somehow more meandering than the material that preceded it, charting Lucy and Dylan’s uneasy rapport and tantalizing attempts to work out their differences at the same time Lucy is half-heartedly leaving prison. tries to avoid with the help of a public defender (Karan Gill).

A protracted series of breakfast orders searches in vain for laughs and is followed by a journey through the woods with so many improbable developments, explanations and actions that it’s hard to tell if this is another one of the film’s dream sequences – one of them, to say the least. say further exacerbate the film’s helter-skelter construction, including animation.

After a fleeting cameo from The power of the dog director Jane Campion (Englert’s mother) and a romantic rendezvous of absurd nonsense, Bad behavior climaxes with more mountaintop histrionics – a fitting destination for a movie that only manages to continually reach new levels of misery.

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