Home Video Hovel: Appropriate Behavior, by: Mat Bradley-Tschirgi
Indie romantic comedies tend to be the same all around. Boy meets girl (or boy or vice versa, etc.); they fight; they make up; they break up; and mopey indie rock song plays over the end credits. In Appropriate Behavior, writer/director/actor Desiree Akhavan bucks these trends with a structure not unlike Christopher Nolan’s Memento. She adds in a touch of Portlandia twee to the mix with an undercurrent of sadness to make a zippy debut feature set in the Bronx. Real life romance is complicated if nothing else, and Appropriate Behavior reflects that in spades.
There are two concurrent storylines going on in Appropriate Behavior, but both deal with Shirin’s (Desiree Akhavan) love life or lack thereof. She’s a bisexual hipster getting over a relationship with Maxine (Rebecca Henderson). We see the breakup and then flashback to its inception. The present day storyline involves Shirin’s multiple hook-ups with guys and gals as she juggles a fresh day job of teaching filmmaking to a handful of elementary school students. She struggles to get them to direct a short film on farts as the class across the hall is busy lensing a shot-for-shot remake of a famous sequence from Alfred Hitchock’s The Birds; one imagines they would do a better job than the forthcoming remake executive produced by Michael Bay.
Akhavan’s dialogue is witty and a bit precious while being knowing and sharp. After an early sexual encounter comes to a climax, Shirin and Maxine want to reveal something to each other. They wait to spout out their feelings at the same time. The awkward pause hangs in the air. It’s a moment both realistic and honest and relatable to anyone who’s been in a relationship, whether straight, gay, or bi. A subplot in the film that’s a bit neglected is the conflict Shirin has with her Persian family. Her brother cautions her not to reveal her lesbian relationship to their parents; their reaction to the eventual reveal is callous and dismissive.
Appropriate Behavior ends on an uneasy note. Nothing is tied up in a bow at the end. Like life itself, Shirin’s journey continues. A riveting new spin on the romantic comedy genre, Appropriate Behavior has strong performances, solid comedic beats, and an emotional rawness that makes the story come alive. See this at all costs.