Thursday, 4 September 2014

Bad Behaviour (1993)

Bad Behaviour is a near forgotten modest slice of life domestic comedy which I first saw when it originally came out in the 90s. It's taken me twenty years to catch it again because it's rarely seen at all these days and strangely for a distinctly British film it's currently only available on Region 1, USA. 

I'm indebted to my mate Michael to sort me out with a copy I can finally watch!

The film's director, Les Blair, is a contemporary of Mike Leigh's both from their mutual schooling in Manchester and through to their professional life; employing the same group improvisational techniques towards their projects. Bad Behaviour initially stemmed from such improvisations in an actor's workshop regarding the themes of mid life crisis and marital unease. This subject matter forms the heart of the film and is depicted by Stephen Rea and Sinead Cusack playing a married Irish couple with two young sons living in NW London who find themselves both drifting apart and being pushed and pulled in opposite directions. However, as a study of domestic disharmony, it's all done in a a very genteel, civil and quirky way; there's no angst or anguish on display here as the film shambles along and its attractive slow pace.

The crux of the film is the arrival of a posturing, puffed up and upwardly mobile 'gobshite' called Howard Spink (a wonderfully sleazy, awfully believable turn from Philip Jackson) who believes pointing out a crack in Rea and Cusack's plasterwork and suggesting builders he knows constitutes as providing a service to them which he can charge £120 odd for! The builders in question are Roy and Ray Nunn, identical twins both played brilliantly by Phil Daniels; one is laidback yet possibly more ambitious, whilst the other is more honest and more the traditional Daniels caricature - a nice contrast to the underplaying he employs for the other twin . By the time the Nunn brothers commence their work and the bill from Spink arrives we're utterly captivated by the assembled characters despite very little actually going on. There's enough insightful characterisation and hangdog humour to make up for the perceived lack of edge or intensity in the plot.  

The film largely rests on the backs of Rea (who at times is so weary it looks as if he couldn't support a football team, let alone an entire film) and Cusack, whilst Daniels, Jackson and Clare Higgins as a selfish and weak alternative therapy proponent provide a particularly comedic orbit around them. There's also Mary Jo Randle as Cusack's best friend and the divine Saira Todd as a potential office romance for Rea.

In Phil Daniels autobiography, Class Actor, the actor reveals a suggestion that he may have been ''excommunicated'' from any further Mike Leigh projects because of his appearance(s) in this film. He claims the rumour mill suggested that Leigh was unhappy Blair had tackled a similar improvised basis for a film that included twins as characters, because he felt that was too close to his own Life Is Sweet from 1990.  Daniels won't commit to the notion either way, but its interesting to note that Rea, who also appeared in Life Is Sweet and Leigh's TV play Four Days In June, and Jackson, who appeared in High Hopes, haven't worked for Leigh since either. Just as it is equally telling that much comparison was made between Life Is Sweet and Bad Behaviour on its initial release, with this being cited by one critic of The Times as 'Mike Leigh Lite'.

Personally I found it a very good piece of work on its own merit, with some wonderful snipes at yuppiedom and new age wellbeing that now feels greatly evocative of the time the film was made, the early 90s.

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