Overview: Shirin (Desiree Akhavan) feels like a misfit as both a bisexual woman and a Persian American one, and she struggles to reconcile her personality with her identities. Gravitas Ventures; 2015; Rated R; 86 Minutes
Brooklyn Lofts: Appropriate Behavior feels in many ways like a thematic sequel to films like Frances Ha and Tiny Furniture. Those films were about twenty-somethings who couldn’t figure out who they were, which made for stories that many found meandering and self-indulgent, but Appropriate Behavior is about a twenty-something who can’t figure out how to be who she is. Shirin’s isn’t insecure in her identity, but she is insecure in what the rest of the world thinks that identity should signify. She’s bisexual, but not interested in LGBT activism. She’s Persian American, but not a spokesperson for Iranian political issues. She lives in Brooklyn, but she’s put off by many of the hipsters who surround her. She’s a misfit among misfits, a conflict that sets Appropriate Behavior apart from films that it superficially resembles. In another film, Shirin would be the best friend of a straight white woman who just can’t figure out where she belongs, and Shirin’s sexuality and race would be depicted as a contrast, as if they automatically granted her emotional security. Appropriate Behavior is a nice antidote to that narrative.
Whatever And Ever Amen: Akhavan plays Shirin with eye-rolling disdain for everything around her, but not in a detached or passionless way. Shirin has a fire in her that makes you sit up straight, and Akhavan has that same fire as a writer and a director. One of its greatest successes is its ability to poke fun at Brooklynites without coming across as reactionary or cynical. Akhavan’s camera treats them neutrally, refusing to hypocritically pass judgment, though that doesn’t detract from the film’s 30 Rock-esque sense of humor. At first, the slightly heightened tone of the jokes seemed to be at odds with the film’s kinda-rough indie aesthetic, but the jokes were funny enough that it didn’t make much of a difference. Akhavan’s performance really pulls it all together, though, with her monotone derisiveness being profound enough to allow for complex displays of emotion. Akhavan’s ability to keep all those balls in the air (writing, directing, and acting) is evidence of immense talent.
Wrap-Up: Appropriate Behavior avoids cynicism but retains its acidic wit, and Desiree Akhavan proves equally compelling as an actress and a filmmaker.