Behaving Badly

Question: How did a movie like Behaving Badly get a cast like the one that it did? This is a low-budget teen comedy that features the likes of Mary-Louise Parker, Elisabeth Shue, Heather Graham, Cary Elwes, Jason Lee, Selena Gomez, and Dylan McDermott. Those aren’t no-name actors. And it’s not like they just have cameos, either. A couple of them play multiple roles, and many of them are in the film for its majority. I just don’t see how the filmmakers enticed a cast of this level to appear in the movie. Whatever. It doesn’t matter. It’s just puzzling.

The film is led by Rick Stevens (Nat Wolff), who begins the film telling us that he’s messed everything up. We then rewind two weeks to find out exactly how. Here’s what goes down. He sleeps with his best friend’s mother (Shue), he makes a bet with a mobster’s son that he’ll be able to woo and sleep with his crush, Nina (Gomez) in two weeks’ time, his mother (Parker) tries to kill herself, his father (Elwes) is … doing something, and everyone seems to be up to no good and everything is getting worse by the minute.

We get to watch all of these events unfold. Rick tries — and for the most part is successful — to woo Nina. Rick’s mother, an alcoholic, slowly gets worse and worse as the film progresses. It all begins to unwind in a fascinatingly terrible way. I haven’t mentioned some of the subplots, because if you haven’t seen the film you won’t care (nor will you after seeing it). There’s a lot to keep track of but it’s so superficial that it’s not difficult to keep it all straight.

Almost everybody in this film is a one-note archetype, defined by one personality trait and nothing more. Yes, that can lead to funny moments, but if you’re looking for anything other than surface-level comedy, you’ll want to keep searching elsewhere. Actually, even if you’re looking for surface-level comedy, you might want to keep searching elsewhere. There are a few funny moments in Behaving Badly, but they’re few and mostly come from one-off lines muttered under a character’s breath, half of which were probably dubbed in during post-production.

The film is based on a Ric Browde novel While I’m Dead … Feed the Dog, which is a reference to the suicide note Rick’s mother left him. The author of the novel has written an interesting blog (http://www.celebritytrainwreck.net/) that is funnier and more interesting than anything in the movie. Some of it decries the movie being made from his book. Some of it is about the Hollywood system in general. Regardless, it’s worth reading. If Behaving Badly is 90 minutes long, you can spend half that reading this blog and not watching the movie.

If you do decide to watch the movie, you’re going to get the most enjoyment out of it if you recognize the actors and can laugh at what they’re doing here. Jason Lee plays a pastor. Elisabeth Shue tries to seduce everyone with whom she’s on-screen (except her character’s son, save for one scene). Cary Elwes is the shadiest person. Dylan McDermott plays a strip club manager. Heather Graham is the best attorney in the world, somehow, apparently. This should all be much funnier than it is, but I’d be laughing if at least some of it didn’t make me intermittently giggle.

Given the way that the promotional material has worked, many people will assume that Selena Gomez is either the lead or really close to the lead. I mean, she’s front and center on a post whose tagline reads “One good girl. Several very bad choices.” To me, that reads like a very different movie. Gomez does play the “good girl,” and is the only one who really doesn’t participate in the film’s debauchery. In fact, her character is a do-gooder and wants to be a priest upon graduating high school. She’s really playing against type. (That was sarcasm.)

Behaving Badly is a mediocre and surface-level comedy with a few laughs but nothing at all that’s worth dedicating 90+ minutes of your life to. You can do better things. Read the book on which the movie is based. Read the blog of the author who wrote the book on which the movie is based. Take a nice nap. Or sit through this teen comedy which has a far better cast than it deserves. I still can’t believe some of the names that have significant screen time.

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