Selena Gomez in Behaving Badly


DIRECTOR: Tim Garrick

CAST: Selena Gomez, Nat Wolff, Mary-Louise Parker, Elizabeth Shue, Heather Graham, Gary Busey


RUNNING TIME: 96 minutes

RATING: 1 star (out of 5)

Stephen Dalton

FOLLOWING her raunchy turn in Spring Breakers, Selena Gomez (pictured) claws back most of her squeaky clean teen-queen image in Behaving Badly, a clumsy high school sex comedy that tries too hard to be shocking and endearing, falling short on both counts.

Aside from a few lines of juicy bad language, Gomez plays the innocent in a fast-paced screwball farce full of cheerful vulgarity but dangerously low on wit, charm or narrative logic.

Behaving Badly is freely adapted from Ric Browde’s cult 2000 novel While I’m Dead… Feed The Dog, a darkly comic romp which reads like Catcher in the Rye crossed with Fight Club. First-time director Tim Garrick retains the book’s bawdy and profane tone, but transplants it uneasily into a sunny high-school rom-com format. The result is a schizophrenic mess which aspires to be American Pie one minute and Heathers the next, never quite succeeding at either.

Already released direct to DVD in some European markets, the film released on limited theatrical release in the US on August 1, where box office interest will largely depend on brand loyalty for Gomez and rising star Nat Wolff.

An affable but bland leading man recently seen in The Fault in Our Stars, Wolff stars as Rick Stevens, a geeky 17-year-old schoolboy obsessed with getting laid, but also in love with his angelic dream-girl classmate Nina Pennington (Gomez). The main impetus behind the plot is Rick’s ill-advised $1 000 bet that he can get Nina into bed in a week, but this standard teen-movie premise is overloaded with wild digressions and colourful side characters. In place of strong jokes, Garrick punctuates the action with random scenes of masturbation or vomiting which quickly lose their mild shock value and become tiresome.

Mary-Louise Parker plays dual roles as Rick’s alcoholic mother and fantasy guardian angel, while Elisabeth Shue gives good cougar as his best friend’s mother, a glamorous sexual predator inexplicably keen to do a full Mrs Robinson on Rick’s callow teenage body. Throw in corrupt clergy-men, East European mobsters, a sleazy school principal, nuns and strippers and prostitutes and – hey, presto! – you have the perfect recipe for a lukewarm, dated and slightly creepy sex comedy.

In his defence, Garrick attracts an impressively starry cast to his low-budget indie production, which was shot in just 20 days. Gomez gives the one-dimensional Nina an emotional maturity that deserves a better movie than this, while the veteran trio of Parker, Shue and Heather Graham all bring serious acting chops to overblown caricature roles. Jason Lee hams it up as a crooked Catholic priest and Dylan McDermott lays it on thick as a sexually depraved strip joint boss. When the notoriously combustible Gary Busey’s stunt-casting cameo as a police chief is the most understated performance in a movie, you know you are not in Kansas any more.

Shot in bright splashy colours, Behaving Badly is peppered with 1980s references, from its stock cast of high-school jocks and nerds to its overly intrusive soundtrack featuring mostly retro bands like The Cure and New Order. The subplot about a domestic lap dancing club is such a blatant steal from the early Tom Cruise hit Risky Business, it can only be a deliberate homage. Between loose ends and laboured jokes, there are some agreeably goofy touches, including a tiny uncredited cameo by pop superstar Justin Bieber, Gomez’s sometimes boyfriend.

But for all its quirky novelty appeal, the unpleasant odour of juvenile male fantasy hangs heavy over Behaving Badly. It is plain depressing to see award-winning talents like Parker and Shue reduced to playing desperate housewives and slavering nymphomaniacs, however much fun they make it appear. The film’s lighthearted presentation of paedophilia, underage sex and drug rape is also problematic. – Hollywood Reporter