Appropriate Behaviour Review

Desiree Akhavan’s debut Appropriate Behaviour comes to cinemas after Desiree’s critically acclaimed and cult favourite funny lesbian web series The Slope, and after the director/writer/actress’s appearance in the brilliant Girls (though her role in this series is admittedly very much a bit part) having been compared to death to Lena Dunham. So there is a lot of expectation riding on this film, can it live up to this? I sure bloody hope so, as I for one am very happy to finally see a bisexual ethnic minority female character (Akhavan being of Iranian descent) in the title role and not just as a token character, put in for some extra fun or drama. And on the whole I think Akhavan pulled it off and I certainly hope it gets seen by many, especially those who bisexuals are weird, fake or just doing it to turn on men (you know who you are).

The film opens with New Yorker twenty-something Shirin (Akhavan) breaking up with her long-term girlfriend Maxine (Rebecca Henderson) and makes a memorable impact from the get go, showing Shirin retrieving a dildo from a skip that she hastily threw away.  From here we watch as Shirin, with the help of her patient and sympathetic best friend and foil Crystal (Halley Feiffer), makes clumsy but endearing attempts to get over Maxine by quickly dating a succession of men and women. One who she memorably meets at a feminist lesbian book club talk and asks out just to make the attending and affronted Maxine jealous.  Whilst also struggling to manage her new job as a film instructor at a primary school where the kids don’t sit still or seem particularly interested. Here we see the resemblances to Dunham, the humour stemming from the willingness to be vulnerable and look silly, and the messiness of what it means to be a young woman trying to find one’s identity and place in the world. The difference is Shirin unlike Hannnah in Girls, has to deal with a conservative Iranian family who expect her to be a proper Iranian daughter, whilst also dealing with biphobia and the pressures of coming out.

It is a particular world that Shirin inhabits but what makes the film particularly good is that it makes this world relatable and accessible. And there are many authentically funny moments in the film including scenes where Shirin and Maxine role-play being a tax accountant and a small business owner who’s lost all her receipts, which suddenly turns serious as Maxine professes her lack of interest in sex to a very frustrated Shirin. Or when Shirin realises that her and Maxine are the “same stoned person” (“this is so beautiful”), or when Shirin clumsily attempts to seduce the lawyer from the book club by showing her a trick with a cocktail cherry, or when Shirin first meets Maxine and is drawn erotically to her bitterness  (“I hate so many things too!”). Scott Adsit from 30 Rock also does a funny turn as a perennially stoned teacher at Shirin’s school who keeps losing his kid.

And it is the vulnerability of Shirin mentioned earlier that also makes this film and Shirin all the more engaging, the fear of coming out and the non-response from her mum when she finally does feels real, as does the sexual awkwardness and jealousy of the spontaneous threesome she has (for all those who think threesomes are all bisexuals want to do….). Akhavan also shows the raw emotional damage and fragility of relationships (both particular to lesbian relationships and universal), showing the raging arguments Shirin often has with suspicious and jealous Maxine (“M: Your ruining my birthday! S: “Your ruining my twenties!”), which in one argument ends with Maxine accusing of her not really being gay but being in “a phase” (an argument so often offensively levelled at bisexuals) and playing up her Persian card for not coming out.

So I want to thank Akhavan for her determination to show what it’s really like to be a young non-European bisexual woman in the Western world, and to make as laugh, think and empathise with a clumsy but loveable character like Shirin. And to answer the question I first set, yes it certainly did live up to expectations.

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