For Shirin, being part of a perfect Persian family isn’t easy. Acceptance eludes her from all sides: her family doesn’t know she’s bisexual, and her ex-girlfriend, Maxine, can’t understand why she doesn’t tell them. Even the six-year-old boys in her moviemaking class are too ADD to focus on her for more than a second. Following a family announcement of her brother’s betrothal to a parentally approved Iranian prize catch, Shirin embarks on a private rebellion involving a series of pansexual escapades, while trying to decipher what went wrong with Maxine. (Sundance Film Festival)
“Akhavan is very much her own artist – with a polyglot urban voice that comes off like an unholy cross between Fran Lebowitz, Junot Diaz, Tina Fey and Hanif Kureishi.” Rolling Stone
“Akhavan pulls off a fresh coming-of-age in America, as she embraces modernity versus tradition.” Vice
“Appropriate Behavior” is the kind of movie that helps restore “Sundance movie” to its proper definition.” Film.com
“Funny, unique and entirely inappropriate, “Appropriate Behavior” is a supremely satisfying and irreverent take on the New York rom-com.” The Playlist
“Akhavan’s blend of cultural insights and sweetly relatable, self-deprecating humor provide a charming showcase for a new filmmaker worthy of discovery.” Indiewire
“A debut feature from the writer-director-star, this tart, sexually frank portrait of a disintegrating relationship — and its long, bitter aftermath — packs plenty of punch.” Variety
Desiree Akhavan’s debut feature “Appropriate Behavior” is the kind of movie that helps restore “Sundance movie” to its proper definition. It’s the kind of movie that Sundance needs because it’s the kind of movie that needs Sundance.
“Appropriate Behavior” is sort of like “Annie Hall” if Woody Allen were a bisexual Persian girl living in Park Slope. An organic extension of Akhavan’s popular web series “The Slope“, the film chronicles the various misadventures of a vaguely employed Brooklynite named Shirin (Akhavan, unflinchingly funny in the role she was born to play) as she tries to figure herself out in the aftermath of her first lesbian relationship. Closeted to her strict Iranian parents, one foot in their immigrant culture and another in a bizarro episode of “Girls” where there’s less narcissism and more races, Shirin has no idea what box she belongs to, struggling with how hard it can be when you don’t recognize yourself in the world around you.
In a time when most films without movie stars aren’t even seriously considered for Sundance, “Appropriate Behavior” finds Akhavan fronting a cast whose biggest names are Halley Feiffer, that bald guy from “30 Rock” (Scott Adsit, he’s great), and your ex’s best friend (always a scene-stealer). But here’s the thing about “Appropriate Behavior” – it’s really good. Unfortunately, given the glut of seemingly similar movies that are made possible by cheap digital cameras, and despite Akhavan’s fan base, its immediate appeal and vitally fresh perspective don’t guarantee it the attention it deserves. But Sundance does.
That movie where Kristen Stewart plays a Guantanamo Bay prison guard is going to be seen no matter what, but “Appropriate Behavior” needs to be rescued from oblivion. It’s the kind of movie that’s completely transformed by the festival. Last year, Akhavan wrote an IFP post in which she expressed concern that the film might “end up premiering at the Hoboken Film Festival for Ambiguously Ethnic Women & The Gluten Intolerant”, but I’m glad things didn’t quite work out that way. And now, whether or not “Appropriate Behavior” is a Sundance Movie, it’s definitely a movie that’s playing at Sundance, and that’s really all that matters.
I met up with Akhavan for coffee in Chelsea Market, two days before she was flying out to Park City. Just as funny as the character she plays in the film, but more grounded and – dare I say – inspiring, Akhavan is exactly the kind of person who you want to root for at Sundance, extremely gracious but also confident in her voice. This transcription of our conversation doesn’t include the confessional outbursts about my ex-girlfriends, tangents about the movie stars who’ve had sex with our friends, and why “Persepolis” creator Marjane Satrapi is Akhavan’s hero, but the fact that those topics naturally came up should give you a pretty good idea as to how much went into “Appropriate Behavior”, and how much you’re likely to take away from it. (David Ehrlich, Film.com)
Appropriate Behaviour is one of those rare gems that truly surprises you. On the surface, this coming of age/coming out tale appears like something we may have seen before. The elements that make up the story are certainly familiar: the main character trying to get her life together, dysfunctional family, dating woes, all with a New York City backdrop. You would probably need to hands to count the number of times this has been done. But sometimes a fresh perspective can go a long way. With Appropriate Behavior, that perspective is profound.
Shirin (Desiree Akhavan) is a bundle of minorities woven into one person. She is a Persian female bi-sexual floundering in the wake of her recent break up with Maxine (Rebecca Henderson). The couple made it a year, but the cracks began to form fairly quickly. Shirin not being out to her traditional parents was the major strain and what eventually broke them. As Shirin awkwardly tries to get her life back together, which includes a new job teaching five-year-olds how to be film makers, moving into a dingy apartment with alternative room mates and attempting to get Maxine back, we see flashbacks of how the relationship went down the drain.
The most profound thing writer/director Desiree Akhavan has done is treat her character like an equal. She may be a person whose background and sexuality is rarely portrayed on film, but instead of stomping her foot and saying “look how different I am, give me screen time”, she takes the opposite approach. Akhavan shows us how “normal” it is to be a minority. Her Persian background is mentioned and customs and traditions explained, but they do not define her. Nor does her sexuality. She functions without those parts of her being seen as obstacles that must be overcome to be happy.
Akhavan’s handling of her characters is admirable, but it is also her wit that makes this film sparkle. The dialogue often sounds sitcom-y but it is consistently hilarious. Appropriate Behavior could be the next step in the evolution of cinema and the portrayal of minorities on screen. While there is plenty of room for stories of all backgrounds and nationalities to be explored and celebrated on film, there is also space for them to be seen as equals. This could open up the possibility that it is done far more frequently. Voto 9/10. ( Julian Wright, NextProjiection.com)