Desiree Akhavan writes, directs and stars in this New York comedy about an Iranian bisexual woman who is trying to come out to her parents whilst recovering from a recent split with her long term girlfriend. New Yorker stories about the quest for self-acceptance and romance are two a penny however Appropriate Behaviour manages to rise above the crowd with its witty, self-aware and unflinchingly honest account of life through the eyes of a young Brooklynite. The fact that we are getting far too rare a perspective from the LGBTQ community does help make the film stand out, but what speaks loudest is the quality of the comedic epithets.
I’m adding nothing new to the conversation when I say that the film owes a large debt to Annie Hall. Akhavan herself even couched her film in those terms when I spoke with her recently¹. And whilst I think it is a helpful comparison in terms of giving you a flavour of the film, this shouldn’t be thought of as simply being a gay, Iranian Woody Allen film. Akhavan isn’t our generation’s answer to Allen, and nor is she a new version of Lena Dunham for that matter. Instead what we have here is a singular voice which feels candid, fresh and perhaps most importantly really funny. Each scene is laced with insight and comedic opportunity, and when the film does occasionally give way to simple drama scenes it handles them with restraint and sensitivity. A conversation which takes place between Akhavan and Henderson whilst sitting on a bed demonstrates that perfectly as we are treated to a back and forth which gently reveals the constant power shifts in every relationship.
If there were to be a serious criticism then it would have to be that the film feels a little episodic, perhaps no surprise given that Akhavan began making her name with a web series called The Slope. There isn’t some overarching form or narrative to the piece which lets it hang together completely cohesively as a film, although this doesn’t stop each segment from being thoroughly enjoyable. Helping the Akhavan one woman army along is an excellent supporting cast; in particular Rebecca Henderson who is delightfully biting in her role as Akhavan’s love interest and Scott Adsit (Big Hero 6) who plays one of the most hopeless and worrying fathers I’ve seen in a while.
I suppose the film and its humour won’t be for everyone. A lot of marketing and reviews for the film have described it as being in deliciously bad taste and ‘entirely inappropriate¹‘. Perhaps my radar is a little off but I don’t see that, when the film is at its sharpest its always clear that the joke isn’t at the victim’s expense but that the focus lies elsewhere, normally upon Akhavan’s lead character. It’s a character study that’s shot through with truly funny comedy but which also takes the time to explore these people as real and feeling human beings. Don’t treat it as a new and controversial Annie Hall, but as the hilarious perfect calling card for an exciting new talent which it is.
What is the film’s greatest strength? Akhavan’s hat trick of excelling as writer, director and actor.
Its greatest weakness? The structure could have been a little more cohesive.
Would I see it again? Yes, the film is fresh enough to be exciting and funny enough to warrant repeat viewings.
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