Movie Review: Misbehaviour
Every other film I watch these days is a biopic. It’s more or less accidental, and I don’t mean to invest so much time into adaptations of real-world events that are often flimsily constructed or just completely inaccurate, like Patch Adams or Bohemian Rhapsody. Either way, I find myself watching these not out of choice, but out of subservience to the release schedule of contemporary films. The latest to be churned out of back-breaking schedule is Misbehaviour, a film that profiles the rise of the Women’s Liberation Movement in the 1970s as they gear up to protest the Miss World tournament.
It’s rather surprising to see Keira Knightley in this, especially since it’s not a period piece, but she’s a welcome lead. Her portrayal of Sally Alexander collides head-on with that of Jo Robinson (Jessie Buckley). Two dominating, brilliant actors sit centre stage, but their competency and confidence in their leading roles doesn’t brush away the flat and predictable character arcs they both find themselves catapulting toward. Both fail to convey any meaning or message from their roles, the typical back and forth between the two wanes thin rather quickly, and this soon overtakes any form of impact the film could have. Predictability is the biggest issue to be found within Misbehaviour, its reliance and dependability on tried and tested character arcs leave much to be desired.
Even the vision of director Philippa Lowthorpe is blurred at times. Grasping at the low hanging fruit of contemporary links, much of Misbehaviour is lost to how bland these villainous men and inspiring women are presented. Alexander and Robinson aren’t presented as anyone too remarkable, but there’s little room for growth when at each opportunity the film gets to make a profound statement, it shies away from doing so in the fear of making any sort of statement close to political. Truly odd, especially since the film is based so heavily on political movements.
Wafer-thin political messages constructed to inform those who know nothing of this moment, but not deep enough to implore any thought from the audience. A glitzy display that never digs into the details of such interesting and formidable advocates of equality. It attempts to blend the rise of 70s feminism with the consequences of Apartheid, a miniature Bob Hope investigation and also a history of the Miss World competition. Each are, in their own right, extremely interesting topics, they’re just not handled with all that much care or concern for how an audience may think about the influence they’ve had.
The Apartheid angle is built up rather feverishly, as if it were the lead selling point of the movie. A hidden trick up the sleeve of the cast. It’s rather underwhelming, and it fizzles out more or less the second we combine Knightley and Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s respective storylines. They collide into each other with all the impact of two go-karts, and the fallout is pitiful at best. Almost ninety minutes of build-up, and then it’s all wrapped up with some drab B-roll that you could find in the BFI archives.
It’s rather appropriate that a film about protesting should come at a time of lashing out at the powers that be. Misbehaviour has a rather lukewarm take on its strong push for equality, most of it due to some underwhelming performances from a talented group of extraordinary actors. Fluffy, clean direction presents a story that misses the mark in capturing the progressive moments, whilst honing in on drab comedy moments far too often. Misbehaviour presents a film of women looking to take a risk to further a movement, it’s just a shame the cast and crew were playing it safe.