Title: Appropriate Behavior
Director: Desiree Akhavan
Starring: Desiree Akhavan, Rebecca Henderson, Halley Feiffer, Scott Adsit, Anh Duong, Arian Moayed
When an actress also serves as director and writer for a film, it’s fair to assume that she has a certain vision for her project. Lena Dunham immediately comes to mind as a current example, creating her show “Girls” and carrying out almost all duties in front of the camera and behind the scenes. Desiree Akhavan, who makes her feature film debut with Appropriate Behavior, bears some similarity to Dunham, determined to show what it’s like to be a struggling young adult living in New York City, and combines that notion with her Iranian-American culture.
Shirin (Akhavan) is bisexual, a fact that she has opted not to share with her very traditional Persian family. She has recently come out of a difficult breakup with Maxine (Rebecca Henderson), and she is most definitely not over the relationship. The breakup means that she must move to a new apartment, and finding a fitting job isn’t easy either. She lands a miserable gig teaching filmmaking to rowdy five-year-olds, working for an eternal pothead (Scott Adsit). Shirin has many things to work out, and the intersection of her family and personal life is never a simple matter.
Akhavan portrays Shirin as a talkative, impulsive woman who is never embarrassed to say what she feels, something which often gets her into trouble. Her initial meeting with Maxine, told through interspersed flashbacks, starts with her offending Maxine and then managing to charm her into a midnight kiss on New Year’s Eve. After their breakup, Shirin explores many avenues for new relationships, including the female moderator of a book club and a couple interested in adding a third party to their sex life. Predictably, none of these work out all too well, and Maxine is still on Shirin’s mind.
Appropriate Behavior is most effective in portraying a real, breathing relationship with many problems that is doomed to fail. Like Blue is the Warmest Color, this film takes a lesbian relationship and narrates its buildup and dissolution with no special emphasis placed on the sexual orientation of its participants. Both feel equally genuine and heartbreaking, and Shirin’s neediness after the breakup truly demonstrates just how much it has devastated her.
Akhavan delivers a fresh, frank performance as Shirin, and she’s far from a perfect character, which makes her all the more appealing as a protagonist. Henderson paints Maxine as a less than warm individual, evidently alluring to Shirin but hardly a comforting presence. In supporting roles, Halley Feiffer and Adsit provide comic relief, something which isn’t quite as effective as the rest of the film. Akhavan is a filmmaker to watch, more than capable of telling quality stories. Her first effort isn’t flawless, but it shows enormous potential.
This film is screening at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City as a NEXT entry.
Written by Abe Fried-Tanzer