|UK Release Date||6th March 2015|
|Reviewed||5th March 2015|
The debut feature from triple threat writer/director/star Desiree Akhavan sees our hypnotic antihero Shirin struggling to work out what on earth is the titular Appropriate Behaviour for a Persian, bisexual Brooklynite. A sensitive, romantic and hilarious first film packed with punch and warmth. Akhavan is one to watch for sure.
Shirin is a twenty something in Brooklynite struggling to find the meaning of life and love within the typical narcissistic realm that most middle class twenty somethings inhabit. The twist in Shirin’s life is that she is Persian, very tall and bisexual. All of these cause her problems. We begin on Shirin falling out with love of her life; Maxine (Rebecca Henderson) and dumping the strap on Shirin bought her as a present casually in the rubbish. Tonally this is where we are with Appropriative Behaviour. It’s in your face in the best possible way. We then follow Shirin’s life both in a linear fashion as she struggles to find a meaningful job and through flashbacks of her relationship with Maxine and where it all went wrong.
So far so Girls, right? Akhavan even has a cameo in the current series of Girls as Hannah’s nemesis at writing school and so, well, yes and no. Akhavan’s Shirin is an angst ridden, introspective creative who undoubtedly draws comparison to Lena Dunham and / or her Girls character Hannah Horvitz but Appropriate Behaviour is different in many ways to Dunham’s creations and both should be taken on their own merits. Both women are very funny and unflinchingly honest but Akhavan’s humour is a little less uncomfortable and softer round the edges than Dunham’s. At the heart of Appropriate Behaviour is the beautiful love story between Maxine and Shirin and the performances of the two women are so true and real it’s one of the most effective portrayals of love I’ve seen on celluloid for a long time. Credit to the performances, the writing and the directing. There is hilarity and sensitivity present in every element of Akhavan’s storytelling and a truly original voice. Scenes featuring the world of Persian high society parties sit alongside a bra shopping scene which segues into an uproarious feminist debate. Akhavan doesn't put a foot wrong.
Shirin’s reluctance to tell her strict parents she is gay is well handled and consistently funny whilst remaining realistic and relatable, regardless of culture. Maxine asks if she is coming to a party as her girlfriend Shirin says ‘Are you mad? In a room full of people from a country where people are stoned to death for being gay? No you are coming as my white friend’. Shirin’s brother is doted on for being a doctor and marrying a plastic surgeon (a cringingly funny moment arises when Shirin tries to belittle plastic surgery in front of her parents and finds out the fiancé does reconstructive surgery on scarred children. Hashtag awkward indeed). Through all the humour though is a family that clearly love each other but one that we sense will never really sit happily with the truth of Shirin’s sexuality. When Shirin tries to tell her mother, she simply replies 'No. You are not’. Heart-breaking.
Shirin treats sex casually but also as something to try fill up the emptiness inside her left by Maxine. This is something anyone who has gone through a break up or been twenty can identify with. We watch Shirin veer from one disastrous sexual encounter to another culminating in an excruciatingly honest portrayal of a late night threesome. Not that I’d know anything about that. Ahem.
Akhavan has wisely populated her debut with some fantastic actors. The aforementioned Henderson as Maxine is outstanding, as is Ken Adsit, a Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock player who simply has the best lines and scenes in the film and in this film that’s saying something. Best to just let you watch it rather than give anything away but his ‘interview’ with Shirin is hysterical. Akhavan herself is simply a star in the making/already. A cross between Julia Roberts and Sophia Loren she is beautiful/awkward and has magical comic timing. It says something that one of the best, most honest parts I’ve seen in a while for a female protagonist was written and directed by an actor for herself. Get writing girls! Michael Bay sure ain’t gonna gift you a part like this.
It packs a punch does Appropriate Behaviour. Scripts this funny, brave and punchy don’t come along too often. Si and were both excited to see it as part of the LFF and it didn’t disappoint. Akhavan is one to watch and I simply can’t recommend Appropriate Behaviour highly enough. What you waiting for? Go see it.