APPROPRIATE BEHAVIOUR Film Trailer & Review.
Directed By Desiree Akhavan
It couldn’t look and sound more like New York – Brooklyn, specifically – but in fact Appropriate Behaviour is UK financed by independent production company Parkville Pictures. And that gave filmmaker Desiree Akhavan “carte blanche to do whatever I wanted because I wasn’t answering to any Hollywood types”, she says.
The result is an excruciatingly open, irresistibly funny and honest, closely autobiographical first feature film with huge appeal that deals with what otherwise might seem a rather niche area. Akhavan wrote and directed the film and also plays the central character Shirin, a “more bratty” version of herself – a child of Iranian immigrants, a Brooklyn hipster and a bisexual woman struggling to come out of the closet to her parents (Anh Duong and Hooman Majd), who feel she’s a disappointment to them unlike her conventionally successful urologist brother (Arian Moayed), and trying erratically to deal with the very harsh break-up of a lesbian relationship. Oh, and she shot it in 18 days and it cost less than £350,000. It’s quite a debut.
It opens with an attention-grabbing scene as Shirin, removing her belongings from the flat she shared with heavily bespectacled girlfriend Maxine (Rebecca Henderson) after their break-up, dumps a strap-on dildo in a bin – then goes back to retrieve it. The film plays out through Shirin’s conversations with dizzy blonde performance artist friend Crystal (Halley Feiffer), the newly single Shirin’s escapades as she tries to rebuild her life and non-chronological flashbacks of her relationship with Maxine from their first meeting to their final argument. They don’t seem compatible – Maxine is very serious and Shirin is “only good at dancing and drinking” – but their love scenes are very tender. As the film develops, we see how difficult is it for Shirin to come out to her Iranian parents, for whom being gay doesn’t exist, the conflict that her failure to do so causes in her relationship with Maxine, and ultimately their vicious break-up. But the heavy subject matter is enlivened by plenty of Shirin’s unselfconscious, spontaneous dry humour and witty one-liners.
Paradoxically, what are very in-your-face topics come across in a deadpan way that lets them speak for itself. Shirin finds she doesn’t really fit in anywhere so her behaviour is never appropriate. Akhavan shows us how Americans perceive the Iranian ex-pats and their culture as exotic and barely understood. Life in Brooklyn’s bars ends in Shirin taking part in her first threesome, which doesn’t end well, all expressed by positioning and body language rather than dialogue. A date from an internet site – OK Cupid – means drinking from bottles in brown paper bags on a doorstop. A job she takes in desperation teaching videomaking to children turns out to be with pretentiously named untameable five-year-olds and results in classroom chaos. And funniest of all, in my opinion, is the scene in the lingerie shop, where the simple act of buying a bra becomes a straight-faced, unwanted and unexpected self-esteem-boosting dialogue initiated by the implacable sales woman.
Appropriate Behavior is fresh, energetic, real and stylish. Akhavan has appeared in US TV series Girls as Chandra and she has been called an Iranian Lena Dunham. But she’s a true original. Her previous work includes The Slope, a series of short films with her then partner Ingrid Jungermann and the short Nose Job. She is currently developing a bisexual dating comedy series for cable TV.