Desiree Akhavan’s directorial debut heralds her arrival as one of the most important queer filmmaking voices.
“I’m just going to lie here and try to forget what it felt like to be loved,” says Appropriate Behavior’s protagonist, Shirin (played by the film’s writer and director Desiree Akhavan). On the surface, Appropriate Behaviour is a love letter to the New York romantic dramas that have come before it – Annie Hall, When Harry Met Sally, Moonstruck – yet the specificity of Akhavan’s lens as a bisexual woman and daughter of Iranian immigrants takes a classic tale from the margins of convention into those of modern, messy and often “inappropriate” love.
Appropriate Behavior opens with Shirin in a spiral following a break-up with her girlfriend Maxine (Rebecca Henderson). We glimpse the arc of that relationship in flashbacks throughout the film as Shirin moves through her native Brooklyn, plotting and scheming how she can get Maxine back. From leading a film class with five-year-olds to haphazard sexual encounters, 20-something Shirin is struggling to remember who she is outside of the confines of a long-term relationship … and whether that person is someone she’s comfortable spending a lot of time with. A colourful cast of supporting characters – from Shirin’s family who she remains closeted towards, to her supportive best friend – help flesh out a world more complicated and nuanced than those depicted in regular indie rom-com fare.
Comparisons have been made between Akhavan’s work and that of other multihyphenates like Fleabag’s Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Lena Dunham (the latter in particular, as Akhavan played a guest role on Girls’ later seasons). In reality her storytelling shares more in common with Issa Rae, talks about modern sexuality and feminism through a diverse lens informed by her own lived experience with Insecure. Like Rae, Akhavan first made ripples with a web series – The Slope – which highlighted her unique voice and the themes that were important to her. These are things she has continued to explore in the decade since with her television series The Bisexual (2018) and critically acclaimed sophomore feature The Miseducation Of Cameron Post (which won a Grand Jury Prize at Sundance in 2018). Appropriate Behaviour doesn’t feel like the first step in someone’s ascent: the voice and the vision are comprehensive and fully formed.
Appropriate Behaviour is referenced in Women Make Film in chapters on Economy, Comedy.
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