Appropriate Behavior, a subtly funny and heartfelt film, follows a bisexual Iranian American Brooklynite named Shirin (Desiree Akhavan) as she tries to rebuild her life after her girlfriend, Maxine (Rebecca Henderson), breaks up with her. Along the way, Shirin goes on a series of overwhelmingly awkward sexual encounters with men and women, tries, mostly unsuccessfully, to lead a group of hyperactive children in a school-run moviemaking class, and handles the concern of her family, all of whom can’t help but compare Shirin to her more appropriately successful brother. While the film is unevenly paced in some areas, Akhavan’s candid, realistic, yet surprising approach to human connections and relationships makes the film an enjoyable ride.
One of the film’s most poignant aspects is the reason why Maxine and Shirin broke up. The use of flashbacks to various important moments in their relationship adds a sweet, romantic depth to the story. Clearly, when times were good for them, they were great. But although they lived together, Shirin never told her family the status of their relationship. Maxine, who fought for the recognition of her identity, can’t handle being forced back into the closet. It’s a little explored topic in film, yet the struggle reflects the two characters personally, rather than standing in for all queer relationships that didn’t work out because of cultural differences.
Much of the film is genuinely comedic, which blends nicely with the sense of loneliness that lingers in every one of Shirin’s interactions. The film remains very true to life, as it offers no easy solutions to the trials she faces. But the vast majority of the scenes stick the landing, making it easy to become wrapped up in Shirin’s life and hope that she finds her way.
The film is Desiree Akhavan’s feature directing/writing/acting debut. It premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2014 and received a limited release in the United States on January 15th, 2015. The film was nominated for Best First Screenplay at the Independent Spirit Awards and won several other awards at various film festivals, including the Grand Jury Award at the San Diego Asian Film Festival in 2014. Akhavan is definitely going on my list of female directors and writers to watch.