Bad Behaviour

There's a new kid on Mike Leigh's block. The British director of acutely funny, character-driven, improvised films (Nuts in May, Life is Sweet) now has Les Blair to reckon with. Blair has created a goody in Bad Behaviour. Communal improvisation, Bad Behaviour, good show.

A wry comedy of bad manners, Bad Behaviour focuses on the ebbing and flowing marriage of Gerry and Ellie McAllister (The Crying Game's Stephen Rea and Waterland's Sinead Cusack). Gerry is a disheveled, sardonic urban planner who doodles a comic strip about a superhero battling the gentrifying forces within; perpetually provoked Ellie has a B.A. in English that has become one in bedmaking. Gerry's shtick is to be put out by everything -- a tricky stance, since he enjoys his daily routine. Ellie, at loose ends, first takes issue with Gerry but then thinks he may be right that she's suffering metaphysical menopause.

Life's irritations for this Irish couple living in London really kick in when oily Howard Spink (Philip Jackson) tells them their house needs repairs. With the slimy swagger of a beer-bellied, leather-coated businessman who considers The Cult of Narcissism bedside reading, he wants to charge a consultant's fee for phoning up a contractor. (The contractors themselves are no prize -- identical-twin workmen who are just about interchangeable because they're clods.) In the middle of this muddle, one of Ellie's friends wants to fob her daughter off on the McAllisters so she can attend a Buddhist retreat.

hat this improvised story holds together in this mise en scene is credit to all parties involved. Rea is a sight, his Gerry proud that he has bicycle clips and not biceps. Cusack plays well off Rea, riding out waves of ambivalence. The supporting cast has great fun, and the upbeat, chummy party-music soundtrack offers an effective counterpoint to the harried proceedings.

--Peter Szatmary

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