APPROPRIATE BEHAVIOR (2015, Desiree Akhavan)
I wish Akhavan had a bit more visual snap or panache to her directing, because this is a really strong piece of writing and acting that doesn’t quite make for the most memorable filmmaking debut. Still, there’s so much to like about that script and that performance, it’s hard not to recommend.
Akhavan made her first impression on me in a supporting role on GIRLS this season, and after finally seeing this film, it makes perfect sense she would appear on Dunham’s show. Her writing style, her observations, and the general tone and demeanor of this picture are familiar to anyone who watches GIRLS. But Akhavan’s chief concern is identity, and there’s a lot going on in this movie. Her character Shirin has an identity as a Persian American, but good luck not running into stereotypes when she tells someone that. In one scene, she tells a white male prospective employer she’s Iranian and he responds with wide-eyed exotic wonder, asking her instantly about the “situation” there. As if all Persians a) care about “the situation,” b) have intimate knowledge of it; or c) have nothing else to offer.
Shirin is also trying to find her sexual identity, which closely resembles that of a bisexual, but whatever it is her parents don’t want to hear it. Her girlfriend imposes her own ideas about coming out upon Shirin, seemingly apathetic to Shirin’s specific problems (but it’s a concern that makes sense from her perspective, making the entire thing complicated and interesting). And throughout these struggles, over whatever course of time the film takes place during (much of it is in flashback), Akhavan does a good job comparing Shirin’s struggles with personal identity to that of modern American women in New York finding a voice. Plus, there are a ton of laughs. Hopefully with her next film, she also finds a directorial voice that tightens up some of her slack compositions, edits lacking rhythm, and uneven supporting performances.