Sundance: Englert (yes, yeah, Jane Campion’s daughter) takes her turn behind the camera. The results are wonderfully original.
Lucy is searching for enlightenment. Dylan wants to prove her strength. And in Alice Englert’s hilariously sexy debut “Bad Behavior,” both mother and daughter will find their way there. Well, in the end.
First, we’ll address the sadly necessary disclaimer: Englert, as the Internet likes us all to shout over and over for mostly boring endings, “Nebo baby.” The daughter of Oscar-winning filmmaker Jane Campion and fellow director Colin Englert (and hell, let’s do the full family tree: great-granddaughter of actress Edith Campion and stage director Richard Campion), Englert has long been devoted to her own artistic career. She’s an actress, writer, singer-songwriter, and thanks to “Bad Behavior,” she’s risen to the spotlight as a director (she’s already got two short films under her belt).
Maybe it’s the talent in her genes, maybe it’s her unique life experience, maybe it’s a combination of that and more, but Englert is truly an amazing, well-rounded director. Dumb labels: They’re the real deal, and “bad behavior” is proof positive of that.
Englert, who also wrote the film’s screenplay, is only too happy to wink at her background. Jennifer Connelly plays a former child star (remember the role of the “warrior princess” from her teens who changed her forever, in both good and very bad ways) who struggles to get out of the spotlight. Englert herself co-stars as her daughter (“nepo baby”?!?), who is trying out her acting role in Hollywood. Campion herself appears in a cheeky veil. But despite these nods to Englert’s upbringing, “Bad Behavior” is her entirely original monster.
We meet Lucy (Connelly) on her way to a silent retreat with her mentor, Elon Bellew (very funny Ben Whishaw), who she listens to religiously on tape. Elon doesn’t seem particularly enlightened, but Lucy is enthusiastic enough to set aside the money and time to spend a week or so on his latest event, full of similarly lost souls who think not talking for a while might help, well, whatever. Before the darkness overpowers her indefinitely, she needs to catch up with her only daughter, Dylan (Englert), who is half a world away, working on a truly nonsensical fantasy film set in New Zealand. (The country itself plays and also stands in the Pacific Northwest, where Lucy lives, which is a production option that works well.)
The women weren’t particularly simpatico, but they do share a bent to show what Englert’s coy title alludes to: behaving badly, even if they are, in essence, good people. Lucy’s attempts to right herself between the funny and the profane as she tries to embrace whatever cuckoo crap Elon tosses at his followers (that Elon is breaking silent Part of the silent retreat is just one of the many amusing pops Englert adds at the right times). Lucy’s fraught affair with pseudo-Enlightenment is thrown for a loop by the late arrival of a model/DJ ( also Dasha Nekrasova), who takes everything less seriously but is instantly liked by everyone. amazing!
Meanwhile, Dylan is on the other side of the world trying to prove her mettle as a rising stunt performer (internal checklist: make fun of mom, declare she doesn’t feel pain, demand stronger blows, flirt with a fuccboi, repeat). But Dylan is really her mother’s daughter, and she’s also prone to being nasty, even when she thinks she’s actually doing a good job.
It’s all funny, laid-back, and intriguing enough before it throws Englert into a wild turn—and by “brutal” we mean it’s well-earned, deeply shocking, and a powerful catalyst for what’s next that propels both women into a new world. spaces. (Quick editing from Simon Price helps with the twist and more.) That means a reunion, and Englert mostly avoids the cliché when it finally throws these two toxic sides together, with Connelly and Englert already doing very well, and they do an even better job when they finally share a screen.
Englert’s intelligence and ability to find humor and heart in all kinds of situations translates to her own performance, which is deceptively weak. Even as Lucy gets more complex (the role is a total meal for Connelly, who also produced the movie), Dylan remains a weight to her, perhaps the only thing she really loves. But how can someone as flawed as Lucy express that fully? And how can someone as packed as Dylan accept it?
These questions linger throughout Bad Behavior, violent themes that Englert approaches with consistent laughs and deeper explorations. While the final moments may be more ambiguous than all that came before, they at least indicate the power of Englert’s vision and her determination to carry it out. Maybe this is something you were born with, or maybe it’s just something you work for. However you got there, Englert arrived.
Bad Behaviour premiered at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. It is currently seeking distribution.