Stuck in the seemingly never-ending cycle of final papers and exams, I sought an oasis in this wasteland of bullshitting and cramming. Something light and funny, but with not an ounce of cheap and stupid humor. I searched for ages, crawling in the desert that is my movie watch list, and then I found it.
Appropriate Behavior, directed by Desiree Akhavan and released earlier this year after its world premiere at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, is the perfect balance of comedy and heart. It was my oasis and so much more. Akhavan, an Iranian-American writer-director, was previously known for her web series The Slope, featuring (in her words) a lesbian couple “continuing to hash out a power dynamic that ends up making them look homophobic, superficial and ultimately, perfect for one another.” This tagline alone speaks to her style of witty comedy. Appropriate Behavior is her feature-length debut, which she also wrote and starred in. I love that Akhavan is a triple threat in this sense, as we don’t always get to see women writing, directing AND starring in their own films in the same numbers that we see with men. The choice to cast herself as Shirin, a bisexual Brooklynite reeling after a breakup with her girlfriend, was a smart one as Akhavan herself identifies as bisexual. As writers, we are always being told to write what we know, and she has done just that.
It also helps that this film is fucking hilarious.
Akhavan’s style of line delivery is deadpan, her face ever-serious as she delivers lines such as “I’m like one bad romantic encounter away from moving to France and changing my identity,” or “I’m just going to lay here and try to forget what it felt like to be loved.” We emphasize with her situation (breakups really do suck) but everything Shirin says is so on the head that no matter where she ends up, we know we’re going to be laughing like along with her. Or at her. Mostly at her.
Appropriate Behavior deals a lot with the ways we stereotype people—not just in terms of gender or sexuality, but also where we live, what we do for a living, and much more. While the film mentions several stereotypes, the good thing about Appropriate Behavior is its characters are all fleshed out and three-dimensional. Shirin is bisexual and allowed to be bisexual. She doesn’t have one big moment of “I’ve changed my mind, I really AM gay,” (because news flash, that’s not how bisexuality works), and is allowed to just exist and learn to be comfortable with who she is. It’s refreshing to me that a film like this can exist after growing up and seeing numerous films involving LGBTQ+ people that end in either heartbreak or tragedy.
During the hectic last weeks of the semester, this film is like a breath of fresh air. It’s light and entertaining, with lots of laughs and lots of heart. I had the pleasure of seeing this film for the first time at last year’s Milwaukee LGBT Film/Video Festival, and sitting in a crowd and sharing laughter is truly the best medicine for the stress of finals. I can’t recommend this film more, and I look forward to the films Akhavan will bring us in the future. I know they’ll be just as smart and funny as this one.
You can rent Appropriate Behavior on both Amazon and YouTube.