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Mommie Dearest

Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Bad Behaviour (2023)

Showbiz mothers, already indicted many times for many crimes, are back in the dock in "Bad Behaviour" before being let out on parole. Alice Englert, writing and directing her feature debut after a couple of short films, plays the younger side of a mother-daughter relationship bent out of shape by the influence of the past, in this case by the parent's acting fame from years before. That the daughter, Dylan (Ms. Englert), has followed her mother Lucy (Jennifer Connelly) into the same industry is just one dimension of a tense codependency. Ms. Englert would know something about this kind of potential disaster, although her own mother, Jane Campion, cameos here offering moral support, and the vibe is comedy-drama compassion not confessional.

Lucy is a neurotic ball of festering guilt, and presumably has been for ages. Arriving at the isolated Loveland Ranch to join a group therapy retreat and work through some of these issues, Lucy immediately homes in on the one spot on the campus where a decent phone signal lets her call Dylan as often as possible, never mind that her daughter is at work as a stuntwoman on a film and might be best left undisturbed. The therapy is delivered by a self-help guru named Elon (yes indeed) Bello, played by Ben Whishaw as a condescending nincompoop bellowing downer aphorisms like "Don't give in to hope!" He swaddles half the group in blankets like babies and has the other half nurse them like mothers; the tears flow, Lucy perhaps thinking about how much she paid for this cod talking-cure fandango.

Clearly Lucy is pursed and tense and going to go off like a land mine at some point. Dylan is more complicated, partly since Ms. Englert is 28 years old. A plot that would work one way if the daughter was a teenager flexes a bit differently with her as a grown woman, one more comfortable doing physical stunts than she is letting her emotional shields down. While throwing herself down staircases and lolloping around in a motion-capture outfit like Andy Serkis, Ms. Englert smiles more often and more broadly here than in her last three projects combined.

Dylan eventually travels to the therapy retreat herself, where she and Lucy confront each other in the symbolically wild New Zealand landscape where the film was made, and then Dylan doesn't smile so much. Lucy's original fame came from a warrior princess TV show apparently called "Flora the Fierce," while Dylan is employed years later doing stunts for similar fantasy characters clobbering each other with mystic weaponry; a neat complaint about both the unbreakable cycles of difficult family history and Hollywood's dearth of decent work for women.


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