Sundance movie review: Personal 'Bad Behavior' fails to connect

Lucy (Jennifer Connelly) attends an enlightenment retreat in "Bad Behavior." Photo courtesy of Sundance Institute
1 of 5 | Lucy (Jennifer Connelly) attends an enlightenment retreat in "Bad Behavior." Photo courtesy of Sundance Institute

Jan. 24 (UPI) -- Bad Behavior, which premiered Saturday at the Sundance Film Festival, feels like a film so personal it may have been therapeutic to make, but it becomes impenetrable to outsiders. Alice Englert wrote and directed.

Lucy (Jennifer Connelly) is attending a secluded retreat in Oregon while her daughter, Dylan (Englert), works on a film production in New Zealand. Elon Bello (Ben Wishaw) puts Lucy and other guests through exercises to attain enlightenment.


Through the exercises, Lucy reveals she was a child actor who can still live off her old show, which in turn gave her an eating disorder. Lucy uses humor to cope with difficulties but recognizes she can be mean. She actually calls herself the C word.

Bello's exercises can be as outrageous as guests pretending to be babies and mothers. Connelly and the cast are game for it, but if Bello was ever supposed to be more than a fad guru, Bad Behavior never makes a case for it.

Some real darkness comes out 46 minutes in and sends the film in an entirely different direction. Lucy's story collides with Dylan's, but by that point it's hard for an audience to know what they're being shown, let alone rooting for.


Englert may have something to say about generational trauma, even specifically generational trauma in the entertainment industry. She is the daughter of director Jane Campion.

It's not exclusive to filmmaking that parents screw up their kids and kids carry resentments for it. By the time Lucy and Dylan start hashing out their issues, it feels like the 46 minutes was a really long time to spend on an enlightenment retreat just to set up that Lucy is avoiding her own responsibility in matters.

Englert imbues Dylan's journey with some artistic flourishes, namely an animated dream sequence. Ultimately, Bad Behavior feels like a lot of ideas that needed to be fleshed out and honed in order to coalesce into a fully formed movie.

Connelly, Englert and Wishaw commit to their roles and aren't afraid to show darkness. Unfortunately, Bad Behavior struggles to focus that darkness on a constructive narrative.

Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001 and a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012. Read more of his work in Entertainment.


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