It’s always good to find a fresh voice in cinema, and when that voice is as unique as Desiree Akhavan’s, it’s even better. Appropriate Behaviour, her feature debut as writer, director and star, may not be entirely original, owing something of a debt to Lena Dunham’s Girls among others, but it is a remarkably confident, assured start to what should be an extremely promising career.
It’s not autobiographical, as Akhavan has repeatedly said in interviews, but it is inspired by her life as a bisexual Iranian-American living in New York. It begins with Shirin (Akhavan) breaking up with her girlfriend Maxine (Rebecca Henderson) and moving out of the apartment they share, and then follows her various misadventures as she tries to get back on her feet, while periodically flashing back to show how she and Maxine got together and fell apart.
It recalls last year’s excellent Obvious Child in a lot of ways. Both films focus on women living in Brooklyn who have recently left a relationship, struggling to cope with the change in circumstances and doing things (and people) that they might regret later on. There are far worse films to remind the viewer of, however, and the fact that Appropriate Behaviour is told from the point of view of a woman from a traditionan Iranian family gives it a perspective we haven’t really seen before.
A lot of the drama – and awkward laughs – come from Shirin’s difficulties with her family, specifically from her continued inability to come out to them as bisexual. It’s one of the main factors in her and Maxine’s breakup, with Maxine understandably unhappy that Shirin still hasn’t told her parents about their relationship. Starting from Shirin’s reluctance to admit the truth about who she is to her parents, much of the film is about her attempts to fit in, to find an identity which she can feel comfortable in, a struggle which many unemployed, unlucky in love twentysomethings will surely be able to identify with.
If this is all starting to sound a bit serious, then rest assured that Appropriate Behaviour is actually a very funny film, but its more sombre observations help to give give depth and poignancy to the comedy. Akhavan herself is particularly good at the sort of snarky, slightly bitter wit which you might expect from someone in Shirin’s situation, and her attempts to win back Maxine and find something to do with her life are frequently hilarious in how poorly judged they are. Her decision to teach filmmaking to children proves to be an especially bad one for her, but great for the audience, not least because this is how we get to meet Scott Adsit’s permanently stoned deadbeat dad.