Appropriate Behavior (2014)
★★ / ★★★★
After breaking up with her girlfriend, Shirin (Desiree Akhavan) attempts to explore her sexuality by going on dates with men and women. These encounters often lead to sex. Still, she can’t quite place what is missing or put her hand on what she needs. This leads to more confusion, frustration, and willingness to meet strangers who may or may not offer answers she is searching for.
Written, directed, and starring Desiree Akhavan, “Appropriate Behavior” is not quite a riotously funny comedy but it does have enough moments of joy and honesty that many young people, especially in their twenties, despite one’s sexuality, can relate with. At times it is sharp in finding the pulse when it comes to being a twentysomething or on the verge of becoming a “real adult” and feeling uncertain about the future. However, it is limited by important but unexplored strands like the protagonist’s disconnect with her highly traditional family.
Akhavan’s face is able to express a gamut of subtle emotions which makes her interesting to watch. It would have been easier to show obvious highs and lows, but the material is unafraid to traverse the middle ground—without turning into a bore. Shirin is often thrusted into embarrassing situations and it is almost always accompanied by shame. Because she is someone who doesn’t quite learn from her mistakes the first or second time, we come learn the pattern of the way she thinks to the point where we can eventually sense the lightbulb going off in her head when things go wrong.
And yet we root for her. Akhavan plays the character with a certain level of charm and effervescence. Even though the protagonist is at a crossroads in her life, there is more to her than confusion and being heartbroken from a breakup. She exudes an energy that is relatable. She acts and talks like a good friend instead of simply some character from a movie who is given superficial problems eventually to be solved cleanly after ninety minutes.
What works less effectively are Shirin’s encounters. It would have been fresh if we had a chance to get to know some of them. They are treated exactly as one night stands which takes away some of the intrigue in what they come to share. They are simply bodies instead of personalities which is a problem because we never really get a chance to understand why Shirin becomes attracted to them in the first place. When she is treated well or badly, there is little emotional impact. Then it is onto the next one.
I enjoyed the scenes when Shirin is around her family. The humor comes in the form of our heroine feeling like the black sheep especially when compared to her brother (Arian Moayed) who is a medical doctor, not to mention about to get married. Shirin neither has a career nor a special someone with whom she can potentially spend the rest of her life with. As expected, her parents are concerned where her future is headed. Although enjoyable, these scenes needed to have a more specific Iranian perspective in order to stand out from other Asian-American or Middle Eastern-American coming out stories out there.
“Appropriate Behavior” contains the elements necessary to become memorable but they are not put together in such a way that makes a truly compelling comedic story. There are times when the material relies on mainstream, superficial trivialities—silliness that one can expect from a television show. These cheapen an otherwise good material with unrealized potential.