By Simon Miraudo
August 8, 2014
Getting over an ex by getting under some strangers? That’s how Shirin plans to mourn the end of her last major relationship, although “plan” suggests there is some order to the chaos of her often disastrous rebounds. Appropriate Behavior is the sexy, soulful, snarky directorial debut of writer and star Desiree Akhavan, who identified herself as “too damn similar” to Lena Dunham in a blog post all the way back in 2013, before her film went on to storm the festival circuit. If this is her Tiny Furniture, expect more great things to come.
The flick begins with Shirin moving out of the Brooklyn apartment she shared with long-time love Maxine (Rebecca Henderson), and flits back and forth between their coupling/uncoupling and Shirin’s failed efforts to find a not-embarrassing new partner to make Maxine jealous. Out of work, she accepts a job from the perpetually-stoned Ken (Scott Adsit) teaching the art of cinema to a bunch of six-year-olds, a plot thread that gives the picture a perfect comic punch to close on. All the while, Shirin dodges questions from her traditional Persian parents about any potential boyfriends, attempting to explain why it’s totally normal for her to share a bed with her female roommate. “It’s European… and thrifty.” Hey, they did it in Beaches too, apparently.
Appropriate Behavior certainly brings to mind Dunham’s show Girls, which constantly fends off criticism for myopically depicting an entitled, mostly-white New York. Akhavan need not, however, fear being considered the “cheap, off-brand Lena Dunham” – as she pondered in that blog post – or the Toby Jones to her Philip Seymour Hoffman. (Remember when they both played Truman Capote? Exactly.) No one would dare lob the same critiques at Appropriate Behavior, in which our bisexual protagonist wrestles with coming out to her Iranian-American mum and dad. I love Dunham’s work, but there’s more diversity in that sentence than there was in Girls’ entire first season.
Akhavan’s wry sense of humour and her effortlessly discarded wisecracks help designate this a comedy, as the handful of comic “set pieces” here don’t explode in a frenzy of hilarious awkwardness (or, say, s**tting in the street) as the coming-of-age movies from Judd Apatow‘s stable do. It’s actually far more forlorn than you might expect. Eternally out of place – not gay enough for Maxine, not Persian enough for her parents, not feminine enough for her bra saleslady – Shirin never quite speaks aloud how hard she’s finding it to exist between easy definitions. The laughs may not come at a steady clip, but seeing Shirin find something close to selfhood, following many shame-inducing experiments, is undeniably heartening stuff.
Appropriate Behavior plays the Melbourne International Film Festival August 9, 2014.