Deadpan Humor, Acerbic Wit Are Main Themes of Quirky Rom-Com ‘Appropriate Behavior’

Angelo Franco

 

Appropriate Behavior

3 stars (out of four)

Not rated

Parkville Pictures

 

In her screenwriting and directorial debut, Desiree Akhavan’s Appropriate Behavior is engrossing, provocative, and entirely inappropriate. Laced with Akhavan’s unquestionable flare for frames and motion (or lack thereof), the film explores the depths of sexuality within a cultural context, posing realities that are heartbreakingly honest and widely unexplored, often at the same time. 

 

Akhavan (of Girls fame) also plays Shirin, a 20-something New Yorker who grew up in a traditional Persian family. After a fervent relationship and equally zealous breakup with Maxine (Rebecca Henderson), Shirin embarks on a journey of self-discovery involving a series of bad dates, a new job, passive-aggressive attempts to either get Maxine back or get back at her, and some pansexual encounters, while non-chronological vignettes detail the genesis and culmination of the relationship at the center of the film.  Shirin, who calls herself bisexual (or “a little bit gay”), resents Maxine for not understanding why she can’t come out to her family, who tirelessly wonder about Shirin’s lack of a love life, especially after her brother’s recent betrothal.  

 

It could have easily been a lesbian version of Girls, and it is sometimes difficult not to draw parallels with the show from which Akhavan hails from.  But she manages to set herself apart by truly diving into the complexities of a character broken and flawed.  There is a genuine sensation of surrender and exhaustion, and Shirin does not always get all the sympathy.  Though finely acted, the true heart of the film lies in its script and cinematography.

 

 

Akhavan navigates the compulsions and desires that drive someone with a broken heart, any which ugly place that may take them.  With the help of cinematographer Chris Teague, she does an exceptional job in placing her characters within the allures of Brooklyn, rundown and magical at the same time, as the backdrop for her story.  Enclosed in a static frame, a threesome scene provokes yearning, lonesomeness, and fright, as do the scenes in which Shirin searches for nonexistent connections with her dates.  They are funny and touching, pulling at chords that the audience may mistake for encouragement towards Shirin or a desire for her to desist her behavior.

 

Every single Brooklyn cliché is accounted for, and the deadpan humor can at times come across as unsympathetic and emotionless, even for the cynical Shirin.  But you can forgive characters with names like Tibet and Groucho for the sake of Shirin’s story.  Appropriate Behavior is a modern rom-com, to be sure, but it is no fairytale. It is a gratifying debut and Akhavan, on her part, has placed herself in a spotlight that we hope she does not leave any time soon.         

 

Author Bio:

Angelo Franco is a contributing writer at Highbrow Magazine.

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