In the aftermath of her breakup with girlfriend Maxine (Rebecca Henderson), Shirin (Desiree Akhavan) finds herself struggling to find her place with her family, her friends, her sexuality and her career.
It seems that whenever writer, director and star of Appropriate Behaviour – Desiree Akhavan – is discussed, parallels between her and Lena Dunham must be drawn. It doesn’t help that Akhavan is currently starring in Dunham’s show Girls, or that both women’s debut features are seemingly about autobiographical voyages of self discovery in their 20s.
Desiree Akhavan has captured the existential crisis faced by many people in their mid to late 20s; the end of a defining relationship, career expectations far outweighing reality, and the idea that we cannot truly be ourselves with those closest to us. Akhavan’s performance never feels self-pitying, however; Shirin seems to be on a voyage of discovery, perhaps unbeknownst to herself, and although she has some truly emotionally wallowing lines – ‘I’m going to lie here and forget how it felt to be loved’ being a standout she is the type of woman to get up and keep trying.
The story of Shirin’s relationship and its subsequent end is told through flashbacks as our heroine tries to deal with it. What becomes clear is that Shirin feels as though she does not fit in anywhere; by being bisexual she is a not gay enough to be gay, by not telling her parents about her girlfriend she is a bad gay, by not slavishly holding onto the traditions from her Iranian heritage, she is a bad immigrant.
Appropriate Behaviour is by no means the first film to examine the existential crisis of a loved, supported and educated woman drifting through the streets of New York City, but it is perhaps the first to deal with the idea that this disaffection has a root cause, and is not symptomatic of a generation imbued with little motivation. As well as this, Appropriate Behaviour feels as though it is an incredibly personal story, and one that could only have been created by Akhavan, influenced by her experiences in life.
In all, Appropriate Behaviour could well be seen to be another deadpan comedy examining the problems of the educated and privileged. While it is this, however, it is also a look into the life of a woman who could easily fit in anywhere, but finds herself on the fringes of everything due to the pressure she puts on herself to conform. Appropriate Behaviour may not feel incredibly new, but it is an honest and moving look into the life of a woman who thought she had everything figured out. Akhavan is a talent to watch out for.