SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL 2014
By Don Simpson | February 1, 2014
Director: Desiree Akhavan
Writers: Desiree Akhavan, Cecilia Frugiuele
Starring: Desiree Akhavan, Rebecca Henderson, Scott Adsit, Halley Feiffer, Anh Duong, Hooman Majd, Arian Moayed, Aimee Mullins, Christopher Baker, Robyn Rikoon
When Shirin (Desiree Akhavan) is dumped by her girlfriend Maxine (Rebecca Henderson), she finds herself lost and confused. In her own head, Shirin may have identified herself as Maxine’s partner, but she was never able to actually “come out” as a lesbian, especially not to her socially-conservative, Iranian-American family. Whether or not Shirin’s family were ever keen enough to catch on to the fact that Maxine was more than just her roommate is totally beside the point; they ignored the obvious signs and assumed that Shirin would eventually settle down and marry a man.
Now that she is single, Shirin has the opportunity to start anew by reevaluating her sexual and cultural identities in the hopes of coming up with a definition of herself with which she feels more comfortable. Taking a cue from Annie Hall, Desiree Akhavan’s Appropriate Behavior utilizes flashbacks as Shirin contemplates the highs and lows of her relationship with Maxine. In the present, Shirin halfheartedly flounders away with her own life, moving into an artist loft in Bushwick and starting a new job teaching an after-school filmmaking program.
Channeling the simplicity of the post-Mumblecore set (which means this film will be probably compared to Lena Dunham’s work), Akhavan presents a very realistic portrayal of a young woman struggling to balance her sexuality with her ethnicity in the “anything goes” atmosphere of Brooklyn. In Appropriate Behavior, “coming out” is not as simple as just stating your sexuality; for people of some ethnic and religious backgrounds, it can be a much more complicated statement to make. Then again, the whole idea of people needing to proclaim their sexuality is sort of ridiculous. (Says the straight, white male.) I sense that could be why Appropriate Behavior focuses on the comedic absurdity of Shirin’s efforts to find herself. Not only is it ridiculous that Shirin thinks that she will have an answer by the end of the film’s timeline, but it is silly that she even has to go through this whole rigamarole. While it is understandable that a lack of sexual identity could be frustrating (and scary) for a romantic partner, why does it even matter otherwise, especially to her family? (That’s a rhetorical question, by the way.)