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‘Bad Behavior’ review: dual stories about the ills of generational trauma lacks a cohesive meeting point

Despite a inspired performance from Jennifer Connelly, the film can’t seem to meet it’s messages halfway

Sundance Institute

Lucy (Jennifer Connelly) wants to get away and go to an enlightenment retreat to escape the pressures of the outside world (honestly, who among us hasn’t felt that way at one point or another?). Think about it. Going to a secluded place where beautiful nature is abundant, and you’re free from the distractions of constant notifications. Before she goes, she makes it a point to call her daughter Dylan (Alice Englert), a stunt coordinator in New Zealand, to let her know where she is and that it’ll be hard to contact her. In this interaction (and a subsequent one), the audience can tell there’s a level of co-dependence present.

Perhaps Lucy is apprehensive about her daughter in a somewhat dangerous profession, or it’s just that she’s trying to atone for a disjointed motherhood experience she provided. With Bad Behavior, the film doesn’t want to commit to one uniform idea. Instead, it attempts to investigate themes of parental neglect, the perils of child actors in Hollywood, and how emotional emptiness can carry on from generation to generation. While all these ideas sound great, Englert’s directorial debut doesn't confidently pick a tone to provide a platform for these things to flesh themselves out.

The film presents Lucy and Dylan’s perspectives from two different, distinct views. When she gets to the retreat, Lucy cannot relax. If it isn’t the curtains that bother her, it’s the fluorescent lighting, the animals crying in the woods, or her nightmares. It’s hinted that her previous husband left her, there was an incident during her time in the spotlight where she may have been taken advantage of by an older man, and her mother had committed suicide. That’s a lot of trauma for one person to handle. However, Lucy is insistent on being her own worst enemy – even in the sights of guru Elon (Ben Whishaw), whose methods may come as a bit unorthodox.

When DJ/influencer Beverly’s (Dasha Nekrasova) sunny nature becomes more pronounced, so does the darkness inside Lucy. It’s almost as if she considers it an insult that somebody younger can be so carefree. On the flip side, there’s Dylan, who is shown languishing away in a bedroom at points after her stuntwork and a certain rendevous with an actor on set. She, too, is looking for a sense of togetherness – something that her childhood didn’t provide her. While Englert is a little more reserved in her Dylan storyline, Connelly gets to show a wide breadth of emotions in her role. Lucy can be sarcastic, standoffish, and in a particular exercise, an emotional mess. It’s these opposites where the stories don’t seem to orbit around a cohesive statement.

It’s only when Dylan and Lucy are reunited due to a messy situation that we see their dysfunctional dynamic play out. Connelly and Englert feed off one another on-screen to make the eventual conclusion work. It’s not a “one-size” fits all approach where a parent and child come to a neat conclusion, either. Lucy has her way of eventually apologizing for her transgressions. With that being said, Bad Behavior takes an elongated road in saying trauma is like a cold that you need to address before it gets to your loved ones.