Cast: Desiree Akhavan, Rebecca Henderson, Halley Feiffer, Anh Duong, Hooman Majd, Arian Moayed
Running Time: 86 minutes
Extras: Interviews, Behind The Scenes, A MET School Masterclass Preview, Desiree Akhavan Q&A at BFI Flare, Trailer, Audio Commentary
Living in grand old New York New York (or Brooklyn, to be more precise), Shirin (director and star Desiree Akhavan) struggles to find her label. After the end of a tumultuous relationship with strict and serious Maxine (Rebecca Henderson), she continues to fall behind her doctor brother Ali (Arian Moayed) and down in her Persian parents’ expectations (Anh Duong, Hooman Majd). After agreeing to take on teaching a film class for five year-olds Shirin feels she may have a chance at redeeming herself, but with lots of time on her hands to contemplate her past failures (and current sexual confusion) it seems as if she’ll never get over what was.
Opening on a close-up of Shirin’s moody face, any fans of HBO’s Girls will recognise Desiree as Chandra, a background character from series three. This connection should give you an idea of the tone of Appropriate Behaviour straight away – shot and directed in the realistic, moody style of many current/fashionable young adult films and television shows. In fact, Shirin would fit in perfectly with the cast of Girls, so much so it’s as if she’s been plucked from the series itself. Sarcastic, anxious, scared, outgoing, Akhavan‘s portrayal of this lost twenty-something is engaging and darkly funny (if, by now, a little old).
With the narrative told through the use of current-day footage spliced with flashbacks to Shirin and Maxine together, happy or otherwise, we see how they met, moved in together, argued and eventually ended it, a messy explosion of anger and bitterness. Having grown up underneath heavy Persian stereotypes and traditions, Shirin struggles to ‘come out’ to her parents, with Maxine using this as fuel for her fire, resentful that Shirin feels she can’t be honest about her sexuality. Current-day footage sees Shirin mix with her students, her family, her friends, and new lovers, varying in form from a political activist leader, a pretty-boy day drinker, a threesome couple, and a bearded hipster showing off a large chest tattoo, trying to fill the void Maxine left when she kicked Shirin out.
This theme of personal struggle continues throughout the film, with Shirin desperate to find a label or cliche to hide underneath. While Maxine sees her as a failed ‘true lesbian’, her family fail to acknowledge her relationship whilst continuing to be disappointed in her lack of Persian roots. Even the kids in her class ignore her instructions, failing as a teacher. However, after the rollercoaster ride of the narrative the conclusion sees Shirin excel at one thing in particular, as she comes face to face with Maxine. Hang on for the 86 minutes and you won’t be disappointed.
Darkly funny, witty and charming, Appropriate Behaviour sets out exactly what not to do after a messy break-up. Akhavan nails the current popular nonchalant tone, with her direction and acting proving her to be a true upcoming star.