Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance
Directed by: Desiree Akhavan
Starring: Desiree Akhavan, Rebecca Henderson, Halley Feiffer
For her feature-length debut, writer/director/actor Desiree Akhavan channels the wryness of Woody Allen and levity of Lena Dunham, and in the process proves herself to be an indie talent who’s well worth taking note of.
Drawing on personal experiences of life following her first serious relationship with a woman, Akhavan structures her film similarly to Allen’s tragicomic classic Annie Hall. She plays Shirin, an Iranian-American bisexual struggling to find her own identity in modern-day Brooklyn. Her professional life, which sees her trying to teach film studies to six-year-olds, is problematic enough. However, it’s nothing compared to her private one; having just broken up with her girlfriend Maxine (Rebecca Henderson), Shirin finds herself walking the streets alone, struggling to decipher where it all went wrong, and unable to decide whether now is the right time to finally tell her parents of her sexuality.
It’s clear from the start that other filmmakers have had a considerable creative impact on Akhavan. Like Allen in Annie Hall and Dunham in Tiny Furniture, she shows herself to have an assured ability at being cynically confident behind the camera, whilst maintaining an affectingly awkward presence in front of it. And her razor-sharp script fizzes with a fiercely funny blend of sardonic dialogue and sidesplitting situational comedy.
Despite such iconic influences though, Akhavan maintains an individual identity. Her hip and trendy direction is immersive and some of her stylistic decisions are impressive; she ingrains her story with New York’s cosmic charm, but crucially ensures that Christopher Teague’s controlled cinematography never lingers on the City’s setting in a romantic or glamorous way.
It isn’t perfect; Akhavan’s script has a tendency to be a tad too self-indulgent at times. But it’s impossible not to be left impressed by her astute and accomplished talents
As an actress, Akhavan is an effectively unassuming presence. And it is through her profoundly intimate performance that the film truly finds its soul. The reality of Shirin’s new status, and the loneliness that comes with it, is emotively etched in to Akhavan’s eyes. Shirin’s own realisation of this, which comes whilst she’s engaged in a threesome with a swinging couple, is a sudden, striking moment of sadness that’s quietly tragic. Extended flashbacks to happier times in Shirin and Maxine’s relationship, meanwhile, allows Appropriate Behavior to poignantly lament on the pain of lost love, in a way that feels honest and heartfelt.