wed 16/10/2019

Appropriate Behaviour | reviews, news & interviews

Appropriate Behaviour

Appropriate Behaviour

Gay Brooklyn dramedy memorably mixes great humour with uneasy search for identity

Dejection of rejection: Desiree Akhavan as Shirin, blue in Brooklyn

There’s an engaging, indie sense of emotional flux in writer-director Desiree Akhavan’s feature debut Appropriate Behaviour, and a very funny script indeed behind it. Akhavan herself plays Shirin, daughter of a traditional Iranian-American emigre family, who may define herself as bisexual but whose heart seems to be telling her she’s gay: she’s both distraught and angry after the film’s opening scene break-up with girlfriend Maxine (Rebecca Henderson, cooler and much more self-aware).

Appropriate Behaviour loops loosely, and without signage, between past scenes from that relationship, from first meeting (very nicely observed, New Year, on the steps of a Brooklyn brownstone), then on through love (real moments of, pictured below right) and conflict, and Shirin’s attempts to bring it back together again, as well as just get along in the moment.

There’s a nicely satirical sense of milieu in its depiction of Brooklyn artistic lifestyles

There are also the frequently awkward situations that she gets into along the way: Akhavan has a physical presence that simultaneously seems assertive and yet wondering how comfortably it’s really fitting into its space. So is the film’s title ironic, or does it raise the question of just what is “appropriate” when you’re trying to resuscitate a relationship? Best friend Crystal (Halley Feiffer) is alongside much of the time as sidekick-stroke-shrink, and there’s a nicely satirical sense of milieu in its depiction of Brooklyn artistic lifestyles that certainly diverts. (Before this feature debut Akhavan was best known as co-creator and star of web-series The Slope, which she's described as being about “a pair of superficial, homophobic lesbians living in Park Slope, Brooklyn” – so the neighbourhood is certainly familiar.)

The contrast of Brooklyn with Shirin’s family and background could hardly be more pronounced: she makes rare excursions out to see her parents in prosperous New Jersey, most often for Persian New Year parties, which involve huge, formal gatherings of family and friends with whom Shirin feels nothing in common. But the main gap between these two worlds lies in the fact that she hasn’t spoken to her parents about her sexuality, or that she’s in a relationship with Maxine, making a return parental visit to see the two women in their obviously one-bedroom apartment another evidence of clash of cultures. That’s a plot strand we may wonder about, however, given that Shirin’s parents are so clearly intelligent and sophisticated people. But perhaps that’s the point, emphasizing how far she has moved into unknown, and so far unspoken, territory for them, particularly in comparison with a high-flying doctor brother who’s doing all the right things by the world he grew up in.

When Shirin’s not trying to win back Maxine, she attempts to shore up her independence through emotional, meaning sexual encounters – one awkward date leads straight into a painful threesome which only emphasizes her underlying loneliness. And there's token work: thanks to a stoner friend of Crystal, a cameo that catches beautifully the world Shirin moves in, she’s found a role teaching an after-school film-making programme to five-year-olds. Hard to explain just what that involves, and the results are simultaneously humorous and painful, with some nice satire on film education into the bargain.

There’s a sense of subject here that certainly recalls Lena Dunham (Girls), as well as the wit of the best Woody Allen. Appropriate Behaviour has some very sharp writing indeed, and it’s nicely shot in low-key style by Chris Teague, and particularly well scored, mixing pop and Persian, by Josephine Wiggs. We may laugh both with and at Akhavan’s “sexually confused narcissist” Shirin, as she’s described at the end, but beneath that humour there’s something more affecting, too. Akhavan’s definitely a director to watch.

Overleaf, watch the trailer for Appropriate Behaviour

There’s a sense of subject here that certainly recalls Lena Dunham, as well as the wit of the best Woody Allen

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

Share this article

Add comment

Subscribe to theartsdesk.com

Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £3.95 per month or £30 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take an annual subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters

Advertising feature

★★★★★

A compulsive, involving, emotionally stirring evening – theatre’s answer to a page-turner.
The Observer, Kate Kellaway

 

Direct from a sold-out season at Kiln Theatre the five star, hit play, The Son, is now playing at the Duke of York’s Theatre for a strictly limited season.

 

★★★★★

This final part of Florian Zeller’s trilogy is the most powerful of all.
The Times, Ann Treneman

 

Written by the internationally acclaimed Florian Zeller (The Father, The Mother), lauded by The Guardian as ‘the most exciting playwright of our time’, The Son is directed by the award-winning Michael Longhurst.

 

Book by 30 September and get tickets from £15*
with no booking fee.