It would be easy to dismiss “Appropriate Behaviour” as just another indie dramedy showcasing some Brooklynite’s petty problems, but the debut feature of writer/director/star Desiree Akhavan (“Girls”) has a personal, honest touch that so many similar projects sorely lack.
The plot is as directionless as Shirin, the film’s protagonist, and we simply see her life as it exists before and after a devastating break-up with her girlfriend, Maxine. Shirin identifies as bisexual, depending on who’s in the room. She’s still closeted to her parents, which she continually blames on the fact that they are Iranian and Iranians don’t exactly have a great relationship with the LGBT community. Maxine refers to Shirin as a “sexually confused narcissist.”
The PR campaign for the film flaunts Desiree Akhavan’s association with Lena Dunham’s polarising HBO series “Girls” (Desiree is featured in the new season), so comparing the two feels natural. Both “Girls” and “Behaviour” function as day-in-the-life snippets of young New York women (with snarky jabs at hipster culture and occasional nudity), but where “Girls” feels oddly specific and hard to relate to if you’re not a similarly privleged woman, “Behaviour” is more honest, down-to-earth, and focused on actually connecting to the audience. Everyone can relate to Shirin’s relationship issues, no matter their sexual orientation or social status.
With her debut feature, Akhavan is trail-blazing uncharted territory, exploring LGBT issues as well as what it’s like to be a second-generation immigrant raised in America. She gives a terrific performance as Shirin, which is a relief, since she’s in every single scene. It’s clear that this is a very personal work for Akhavan — she is Shirin, in the same way that Woody Allen’s characters are proxies of himself. The tension drips off the screen during the scenes in which she hides her sexuality from her family, and when she finally confronts her mother about it, the result is so real it hurts.
Most importantly, the movie is hilarious, and the comedy stems from the characters and their interactions rather than cheap gags. Shirin’s awkwardness and general confusion leads to tons of laughs, and the Spirit Award-nominated script is full of memorable one-liners.
Without it’s wonderful script and strong, unique voice, “Appropriate Behaviour” would have been a drab “Frances Ha,” “Girls,” or any other “insert 20something New Yorker in mild peril” clone, but Akhavan’s personal touch makes this a stunning debut for the writer/director. She has been hailed as “the next Lena Dunham,” but in just 90 minutes she accomplished what Dunham has been trying to capture for four seasons.
Watch the trailer below:
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