Take Two: Appropriate Behavior, by Rudie Obias
“How do people meet, agree they like each other, and then, keep on liking each other?” It’s a very common question singles ask, especially if you’re going through a tough break up with a long-term significant other. Appropriate Behavior’s main character Shirin, played by the film’s writer and director Desiree Akhavan, asks this question as she peruses potential new lovers on the dating social network OKCupid. The question is also the perfect summation of Appropriate Behavior’s premise, biting tone, and dry wit.
Appropriate Behavior follows Shirin, a twenty-something, bisexual woman living in Brooklyn, New York. She’s recently unemployed and broke, while she’s also going through a nasty breakup with her girlfriend Maxine, played by Rebecca Henderson. The couple breaks up because Maxine is fed with Shirin’s inability to come out to her Iranian parents and fully embrace her bisexual lifestyle. She shies away from coming out because she believes her bisexuality will clash with her parents’ Iranian upbringing, but it’s almost refreshing that her parents are more understanding than they appear. We see how Shirin tries to get over Maxine through new sexual encounters, new jobs, and, generally, meeting new people, while we see flashbacks of how the couple met, moved in together, and eventually break up.
While the film’s story is simple, the way Appropriate Behavior is put together and told puts a fresh spin on the mopey, sad sack story. It would be far too easy to compare Appropriate Behavior to other female-led-trying-to-find-your-way-in-life-and-love-in-Brooklyn stories such as Lena Dunham’s Girls or Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha, but rather the film is something very different. Although it shares a few similarities on its surface, Appropriate Behavior has a certain point-of-view that examines what it means to be the daughter of Iranian parents and a bisexual woman not ready to come out to the world.
The film is very sharp, witty, and exceptionally sex-positive, which is very refreshing to watch in a romantic comedy. Whether it be awkward sex with someone she meets on OKCupid or a liberal, yuppie couple trying to seduce Shirin into a threesome, Appropriate Behavior explores sex in a very affirmative and non-judgmental way.
With a running time of less than 90 minutes, Appropriate Behavior just soars in its episodic structure. The movie keeps an audience guessing with every scene that unfolds. While the premise is simple, Akhavan explores almost every facet of young love and loneliness mixed with traditional Iranian-American customs and the counter-culture aspects of the art scene in Brooklyn, New York. Akhavan also has a keen eye for her characters, as they’re portrayed in a messy, yet realistic and smart way. While there are moments that feel exaggerated for effect, Appropriate Behavior is grounded in emotional honesty, which is why it works as a smart and bright piece of filmmaking.