VOD film review: Appropriate Behaviour
Simon Kinnear | On 23, Jun 2015
Director: Desiree Akhavan
Cast: Desiree Akhavan, Scott Adsit, Rebecca Henderson
Watch Appropriate Behaviour online in the UK: BFI Player / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Rakuten TV / Google Play / We Are Colony
The appearance by Desiree Akhavan in the most recent series of Lena Dunham’s Girls – where she played one of Hannah Horvath’s Iowa college classmates – now feels like a notable passing of the baton, from one East Coast writer/director to another. Like Dunham’s film debut, Tiny Furniture, Appropriate Behaviour represents a fresh new female voice taking on that most distinctive of New York genres (the cringe/confessional comedy) and giving it new life.
Sharing Dunham’s willingness to put herself in clothes-free, compromising positions on-screen (notably an intensely awkward threesome involving a latex suit), Akhavan is no mere copyist. She brings fascinating autobiographical nuance to the film; after all, there aren’t many bisexual Iranian-American filmmakers out there. The film delights in the collision of these elements within a rom-com set-up, subverting not only Akhavan’s chosen genre but also the traditional pigeonholing of a minority filmmaker’s identity politics. This isn’t even remotely ‘right on’, and the film mocks the very notion that it might be.
The result is frank and funny about ethnicity and sexuality, and how Akhavan’s guarded love life (wanting to protect the cultural sensibilities of her family) don’t mesh with the out and proud inclination of hipster New York. So, despite her fabulously dry wit and CBGB style, Akhavan’s alter-ego Shirin remains an outsider, no matter what sphere she sits in.
The themes are thrown out with haphazard insouciance and never get in the way of Akhavan’s commitment to telling an enjoyable character piece about a woman whose key talents are “drinking and dancing”. In the film’s silliest, but most telling, subplot, Shirin finds herself teaching kindergarten kids to make films. The results of that class – especially when compared to the ridiculous Nouvelle Vague-flavoured offering of the “advanced” class – offer the best insight into Akhavan’s unpretentious directorial personality. Simply put, here’s a star/director refreshingly unperturbed about stylistic originality, trusting (rightly) that her personality is enough to make a worthwhile viewing experience.
True, Akhavan injects some narrative verve by scrambling the chronology, dipping into flashbacks to her doomed romance with Maxine (Henderson, another sardonic delight) to explain the terrible dating choices that Shirin is now making. That said, it’s remarkable how little the visual grammar departs from Dunham; this is the same post-mumblecore world of loft apartments, pretentious parties and weirdly bearded bystanders, shot with a casual élan and a sharp eye for the affectations of modern urban life.
Appropriate Behaviour is available now on BFI Player, as part of a £4.99 monthly subscription.