It would be easy to dismiss Appropriate Behaviour as just another film about a twenty-something struggling to find their identity, but here is a film much less self-conscious, less contrived.
Indeed, director-writer Desiree Akhavan states that gay films and Iranian films are often “like taking medicine”; she wanted her film to be about someone who doesn’t feel a victim of being brown and gay. As such, a criticism for Appropriate Behaviour could be that it treats these two factors too casually, where in reality this is its strength; Akhavan having written the screenplay from the perspective of an alternative version of herself, the result feels a naturalistic film that ambles along, much like central character Shirin (also played by Akhavan) does.
It’s not much of a remarkable story. Shirin is a bisexual Iranian-American, living in hipster Brooklyn. Something of a slacker, she’s not yet out to her family, and is coming to terms with the break-up of an incompatible relationship—no scene more amusingly illustrative of this than when Shirin wants to role-play, and her ex chooses to pretend to be a tax auditor, right down to asking for forms to be filled in.
Struggling to acclimatise herself to a new job, teaching filmmaking to five-year-olds, she stumbles from one poor sexual decision to another, slowly mending her broken heart. No, not much of a remarkable story… but very good execution.
That Appropriate Behaviour is Akhavan’s first-time feature is impressive, given the ease of its idiosyncrasy. A script that is often hilarious—“Don’t give me your lesbian orphan propaganda!”— delivered via quick-fire dialogue, boasts an improvised feel, while the edit adeptly weaves together the film’s intercut timelines.
Adding further quirk is the fact that Akhavan’s previous experience comes from well-received web series The Slope; given that her filmmaking style has yet to broaden, brought across is the standalone element to scenes. Unintentionally, this in effect complements Shirin’s character: this young woman takes her life one day at a time, not giving much thought to the consequences. Factor in Akhavan’s performance, which brings excellent comedy timing, and Appropriate Behaviour is indication of an exceptionally strong new filmmaking talent. Available from Amazon from 29 June