The festival circuit has treated Akhavan well for her debut film which she impressively directed, wrote and starred in. The hype and praise garnered around her as a fresh voice in independent cinema is well justified as Appropriate Behavior proves to be a warm and welcome feature with a script that shines with wit, sharp insight and astute observations.
Capturing a autobiographically inspired story on screen, the film depicts an angst-ridden journey of self discovery and narcissistic warfare within Brooklyn. While Persian born Shirin (Akhavan) attempts to move on from a break up with her ex-girlfriend Maxine (Rebecca Henderson), a woman who ‘ruined her 20s’, it also acts as a reflection for the audience and Shirin on this toxic relationship to explore where things went wrong and why. Just as the couple we’re quickly brought together by an amusing bond over hatred of their hipster peers, that hatred soon transforms into a hatred of one another which engulfs the relationship and results in them both trying to win the all important post break up war. Akhavan profoundly questions the validity of this behaviour as appropriate within a variety of contexts, cleverly shaping how the plot points flow in conjunction with genuine lough out loud humour which at times comes with machine gun efficiency.
The aforementioned reflection is aided by a series of flashbacks which happen at low points in Shirin’s present narrative when she’s most vulnerable. They offer exposition through a glimpse into what has her in the rut and reveal remnants of insight into who’s to blame for the break up, why they had to break up and the dueling contradictory perceptions both have of the break up. The manner in which they’re told – through a hazy lens of perception because of Shirin’s despondent placement – is a clever device to explore existentialist themes including sexual confusion and self identity within the modern world as a politically and culturally correct twentysomething bisexual of Persian descent in hipster Brooklyn who merely wants to forget what it’s like to be loved.
The dramatic shift in the second half of the film is fully earned through Akhavan’s fine direction that gives space to the major beats, writing that emphasises emotional complexity and a sincere performance; all of which leads one to be enthusiastic about Akhavan’s following work and fascinated to see the outcome of her tackling subjects less personally reflective or intentionally cathartic. With a wonderfully gratifying closure to Appropriate Behavior, this debut is a surprisingly heartwarming film about heartbreak with many memorable laughs.
For more of my in-depth analysis and thoughts on Appropriate Behavior, listen to episode 2 of the Project Projection podcast