FilmReview

Review: ‘Appropriate Behavior’ Reveals Desiree Akhavan’s Unique Voice

Wesley Emblidge ‘17 / Emertainment Monthly Assistant Movies Editor

Desiree Akhavan in Appropriate Behavior. Photo Credit: Chris Teague/Sundance Institute.
Desiree Akhavan in Appropriate Behavior. Photo Credit: Chris Teague/Sundance Institute.

Every year, Sundance is filled to the brim with a certain sub-genre of movie: the comedy about 20-somethings in New York who haven’t figured their lives out yet. Since there are so many, only those that have a slightly different angle on the formula really end up succeeding. What writer, director and star Desiree Akhavan brings to Appropriate Behavior is a distinct voice, a really strong presence, and well…not much else. But that’s okay, because it’s clear from this small, shaggy movie that hers is a voice to keep an eye on going forward.

That voice is basically a mix of Lena Dunham and Woody Allen, with a dash of mumblecore and the added distinction of Akhavan’s character Shirin being bisexual and Iranian (two things that don’t exactly go hand in hand). The film throws us right into Shirin moving out after having broken up with her girlfriend Maxine (Rebecca Henderson), and then follows her getting over it and getting her life back together. It’s also interspersed with flashbacks to the relationship and the struggles they had that led to the breakup.

Arian Moayed and Desiree Akhavan in Appropriate Behavior. Photo Credit: Gravitas Ventures.
Arian Moayed and Desiree Akhavan in Appropriate Behavior. Photo Credit: Gravitas Ventures.

The most interesting and fresh dilemma that Akhavan bring to the table is balancing her heritage and the values of her family with the freedoms in America. She’s never able to bring herself to tell her parents about her and Maxine’s relationship, even as she realizes how painstakingly obvious it must be to them. As an actress, Akhavan manages to pull off getting us on the side of this somewhat unlikable character, which is always a feat. As a director, she isn’t doing much, most of the film is very point-and-shoot, but there are moments where she strives to express things in a more visual way that is promising. Right at the start, rather than have a character explain what’s going on, Akhavan shows us Shirin look at photobooth strip of her an Maxine, before angrily ripping it off the fridge and shoving it in a box. It’s not anything new, but it’s visual, and that’s what matters.

Appropriate Behavior suffers from plenty of indie clichés, both in writing and just technically, but Akhavan has such a strong, interesting voice that you’re compelled to keep watching. Akhavan can be seen next on the upcoming season of Girls, where she should fit in perfectly, and hopefully we’ll see another film from her sometime soon.

Overall Grade: B-

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