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Somewhere in this tangled mess of debauchery and off-kilter, almost
deliberately offensive humour is a decent movie. At its best and most
promising, Behaving Badly plays like an ultra-quirky, purposefully
black-hearted look at the standard coming-of-age tale we've seen too
many times before. But it never really knows when to dial back its
strange and frequently off-putting humour, resulting in a film that
frustrates as much as it amuses.
Rick (Nat Wolff) is a self-absorbed, close to morally degenerate
teenager growing up in a complicated household: his boozed-up mom Lucy
(Mary Louise Parker) is barely coherent from day to day, and his
deadbeat dad Joseph (Cary Elwes) only stays married to avoid paying
alimony. Even as he navigates a huge crush on Nina (Selena Gómez), the
school's resident goody-two-shoes, he embarks on an ill-advised affair
with the sexually voracious Pamela (Elisabeth Shue), mom to his strange
best friend Billy (Lachlan Buchanan).
The film is every bit as complicated and filthy as its title suggests,
its characters dealing in drugs, alcohol and sex with next to no moral
compunction. Actually, that's not its problem. These scenes are riddled
with a grim humour, and work best when played loudly and ridiculously -
as they frequently are. And so there are moments when Rick receives
counselling from Saint Lola, the patron saint of aimless teenagers
(played in a neat Oedipal twist by Parker); or when he must cut a deal
with slimy strip-club boss Jimmy (Dylan McDermott) to score backstage
passes for a Josh Groban concert. The film is almost brave in how
determinedly it sinks into the most depraved of narrative depths.
But it's hard to shake the feeling that writer-director Tim Garrick
lets his own crazy creation get the best of him. He packs the film with
knowing, self-aware touches - Rick frequently speaks straight to the
camera, as the title character did in iconic teen flick Ferris
Bueller's Day Off - but achieves very little in the way of emotional
payoff and insight. As a result, when his deliberately peculiar film
heads down the road to redemption, it pretty much collapses on itself.
It's hard to believe in any of Garrick's characters making good, when
they've otherwise been portrayed as so horribly bad that they barely
register as real human beings.
At least Garrick's cast seems to be in on the joke. Wolff is an affable
if somewhat opaque lead, largely outshone by Buchanan (delightfully
weird) and the adult actors - all of whom seem to be only too pleased
to have been let off the leash and told to behave, well, pretty much as
badly as they like. Parker, Shue and McDermott, in particular, play the
taboo-happy comedy with relish, committing so fearfully to their parts
that watching them in action becomes part of the joy of the film.
It's unfortunate, then, that they're doing such good work in so awkward
a movie. Behaving Badly is not for the faint of heart or morally
conservative, for a start. But even those who are willing to take a
walk on the wild side with their teen raunch-coms will find themselves
disappointed by the film, which flirts tantalisingly with the dark side
but winds up being both too strange and too predictable to really work
in the end.
Tags for Behaving Badly Full Movie
, Mary-Louise Parker
, Nat Wolff
, Selena Gomez
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