Not much happens in "Bad Behaviour" (Music Hall) but what does is very easy to take. A shambling comic look at a love relationship that is wearing thin around the edges, it makes few demands other than asking that we settle in for the duration and get comfortable with the lives of its characters.
Directed by BBC veteran Les Blair, "Bad Behaviour" is also a film without a credited writer. That's because Blair, a believer in improvisation as a means toward creating character, has a working method similar to that of fellow Brit Mike Leigh.
While this picture lacks the bite and intensity of things like "Life Is Sweet" and the forthcoming "Naked"--it's in effect the diet version of Leigh's rich and turbulent works--"Behaviour" shares with them an ability to put strongly drawn and alive folks on screen.
Beautifully acted by Stephen Rea and Sinead Cusack, Gerry and Ellie McAllister are an amusingly realistic married-with-two-children couple. Irish born and bred though now living in the North London borough of Kentish Town, they are to varying degrees burnt out and frustrated with the patterns their lives have settled into.
Gerry works as a city planner, a career he caricatures for one of his sons as being superhero Paddy Plan-It, "Trapped in a World Not of His Making." A man whose shaggy exterior masks a sharp and witty interior, Gerry, despite the fetching presence of co-worker Sophie (Saira Todd), feels at odds with a job that only allows small victories like the turning of a vacant lot into a permanent home for traveling Gypsies.
Ellie, for her part, works in a local bookstore and regrets how little time she has to spare after taking care of the kids and serving as the neighborhood shoulder everyone cries on, especially Jess (Claire Higgins), a divorced mom who focuses on incense and Buddhism while her teen-age daughter fumes.
While in another film all this would be the background against which a crisis would play itself out, in "Bad Behaviour" it is pretty much the whole ball of wax. The pleasure of this film is not following a plot but watching these people be themselves, interacting with each other and trying to get on with their lives.
The closest thing to a conventional plot element involves Howard Spink (Philip Jackson), a mobile phone-addicted scam artist who convinces Ellie she needs to have a bathroom remodeled and then brings in Roy and Ray, the identical twin Nunn brothers (Phil Daniels) to do the job.
Perhaps as a consequence of the way it was made, "Bad Behaviour" has more than its share of scenes where nothing much at all seems to be happening, and its sensibility, abetted by a too-cheerful soundtrack, sometimes veers more toward the world of situation comedy than one would like.
But whenever your patience starts to wear thin, either Rea ("The Crying Game") or Cusack ("Waterland") come up with a marvelous scene, often with each other. Don't expect "Bad Behaviour" (rated R for language) to offer tidy resolutions, or anything else tidy for that matter, but if you accept its limitations you will be pleasantly entertained for the duration.
Stephen Rea: Gerry McAllister
Sinead Cusack: Ellie McAllister
Philip Jackson: Howard Spink
Claire Higgins: Jessica Kennedy
Phil Daniels: The Nunn Brothers
Saira Todd: Sophie Bevan
A Parallax Pictures Production for Channel 4, with the participation of British Screen, released by October Films. Director Les Blair. Producer Sarah Curtis. Executive producer Sally Hibbin. Cinematographer Witold Stok. Editor Martin Walsh. Costumes Janty Yates. Music John Altman. Production design Jim Grant. Art director Rebecca Harvey. Running time: 1 hour, 43 minutes.
MPAA-rated R (language).