Sundance Film Festival 2023. Review of “Bad Behaviour” by Alice Englert

Bad Behaviour, Alice Englert’s thought-provoking debut feature she has penned and in which she also stars in is an “enlightened” and meditative affair. This is actually very fitting as the film explores spirituality and mental health but not only.

Bad Behaviour is the story of Lucy, a former child actress, who seeks enlightenment and is making a pilgrimage to join her guru, Elon Bello, at a silent retreat at a mountain resort in Oregon. Before she shuts off her phone to the world, Lucy calls her daughter, Dylan, a stunt person training for a dangerous fight scene, to interrupt her concentration and inform her that she will be unavailable and out of range, that she is very worried about her, and that she might extend her stay. When a young model/DJ/influencer at the retreat is paired up with Lucy to do a mother-daughter role-playing exercise, Lucy’s bad behavior erupts.

Actually, the set-up is a perfect fodder for the shrewdly observed exploration of burning contemporary issues such as mental health and spirituality, the entertainment business – by way of stunt performers and the former life of the protagonist – and family dynamics through the aforementioned fraught relationship between mother and daughter. The principal journeys of both Lucy and Dylan are at first internal ones. They are on a quest for redemption, healing, and moving past the past and passive aggressive mother-daughter dynamics that seem to have been very present in the family for generations. But beyond the protagonists’ existential crisis are the big, unsaid feelings that take center stage in the film, those that simmer and end up exploding like a pressure cooker. In that sense, Englert masterfully succeeds in conveying the time-bomb characteristic of the film through slow pacing and slow-burning tension. Here, the director not only delves into the quintessence of unresolved pain – past and present – and motherly love, but also pays homage to stunt performers through the character of Dylan who has found a loophole and a way to make her pain feel literal, one that she can heal from like she can heal from a bruise. Moreover, Englert also cleverly threads the fine line between satire and sincerity, deriding and critiquing the shiftiness of the spiritual enlightenment industry while acknowledging the seriousness behind the intentions of the people who do engage in such endeavors.

Jennifer Connelly plays Lucy with tenderness, understanding and a deep rawness while perfectly externalizing her internal plight and pain. Ben Wishaw is exquisite as Elon, the spiritual leader, with just the right amount of cruelty and detachment. But the true revelation in this sizzling film is Englert herself because not only does she nimbly manage to extract the most nuanced and engaging performances from her cast – probably the best they have delivered recently – but she plays Dylan with indescribable authenticity, secret vulnerability, rawness, boldness, fearlessness and a restless energy as if she were born to be a stunt performer. Her deep love for the art is deeply palpable throughout the entire film. The supporting cast – including a cheeky cameo by mom Jane Campion – splendidly portrays the spiritual community and effortlessly conveys the spiritual retreat way of living and dealing with one’s issues. Alice Englert’s directing is precise, assured and above all natural, with a contemplative approach, while techs are all on point, especially Matt Henley’s “enlightened” (for lack of a better word) lensing and the scarce, sparse and melancholic score, courtesy of Cameron Tuliloa Mcarthur, Mark Bradshaw, Gina Karlikof and Alice Englert.

Bad Behaviour is not an easy watch, but rather one that will make us question our surroundings, our relationships and make us appreciate our mothers more and regard stunt performers in a whole other light. A truly enlightening viewing experience from a director who is making prolific and brilliant use of her oddball wit, indisputable talent, unique experience, original voice and notable gift for working with actors. Winking at her background (yes, she is Jane Campion’s daughter, but this is entirely beside the point here), Englert delivers a tongue-in-cheek, quirky and honest film. I, for one, cannot wait to see what her next move is!


Photo credits: Courtesy of the Sundance Film Festival.



Production: Bee-Hive Productions (New Zealand, 2023). Producers: Desray Armstrong, Molly Hallam. Executive Producer: Stephen Braun.  Line producer: Kayleighsha Wharton. Director: Alice Englert. Screenplay: Alice Englert. Cinematography: Matt Henley. Score: Cameron Tuliloa Mcarthur, Mark Bradshaw, Gina Karlikof and Alice Englert. Editing: Simon Price.

Cast: Jennifer Connelly (Lucy), Ben Whishaw (Elon), Alice Englert (Dylan), Beulah Koale (Dion), Dasha Nekrasova, Ana Scotney, Robbie Magasiva, Karan Gill, Lara Macgregor (Deborah), Marlon Williams

Color – 107 min. Premiere: 21-I-2023 (Sundance Film Festival)

Tara Karajica

Tara Karajica is a Belgrade-based film critic and journalist. Her writings have appeared in "Indiewire," "Screen International," "Variety," "Little White Lies" and "Film New Europe," among many other media outlets, including the European Film Academy’s online magazine, "Close-up" and Eurimages. She is a member of the European Film Academy, the Online Film Critics Society and the Alliance of Women Film Journalists as well as the recipient of the 2014 Best Critic Award at the Altcine Action! Film Festival. In September 2016, she founded "Yellow Bread," a magazine dedicated entirely to short films, ranked among the 25 Top Short Film Blogs and Websites on the Planet in 2017. In February 2018, she launched "Fade to Her," a magazine about successful women working in Film and TV and in 2019, she was a member of the Jury of the European Shooting Stars (European Film Promotion). She is currently a programmer for live action shorts at PÖFF Shorts, Head of the Short Film Program and Live Action Shorts programmer at SEEFest and Narrative Features Programmer at the Durban International Film Festival. Tara is a regular at film festivals as a film critic, moderator and/or jury member.

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