Appropriate Behavior full movie review - Auspicious debut for new Iranian-American writer/director who proffers up portrait of cool Brooklyn-based bisexual hipster
"Appropriate Behavior" is written and directed by Desiree Akhavan, a bisexual Iranian-American woman, who stars as Shirin, a Brooklyn native, attempting to rebuild her life after breaking up with her girlfriend Maxine.
One is struck by the delightful irreverence of Ms. Akhavan, who has few guilt feelings in acting upon her sexual desires. The plot features encounters with men, women and a menage a trois with a latex- loving couple.
In addition to her sexual life, Akhavan informs us of Shirin's family life, which includes verbal tussles with her more "successful" physician brother over revealing her bisexual predilections to her traditional Iranian-born parents. Shirin also takes a job teaching pre-kindergarten students how to use a video camera and create short films.
Diego Costa writing in "Slant Magazine," notes that Shirin doesn't really fit into the Iranian-American community she was born into or the lesbian sub-culture she aspires to be part of: "Iranian-Americans are depicted as only able to communicate by gossiping and "reading," whereas cosmopolitan queerness is presented as a bubble of self-important and pseudo-intellectual regurgitation. The ethnic and sexual communities she's supposed to belong to appear to suffocate Shirin, as their original role of sheltering give way to an orthodoxy that erases the singularity of human subjects. Thankfully, for the audience and for herself, Shirin is able to transform this lack of harmony not into bitterness, but into an opportunity to articulate her own awkwardness."
Stephanie Merry in the "Washington" Post believes that it's Akhavan's sense of self-deprecating humor that makes her writing stand out: "Shirin is relentlessly self-effacing. When someone tells her she could be a model, she says, "Yeah, a before model for Accutane." But Akhavan has great comic timing and a wonderful screen presence that, much like Dunham's, is not at all self-conscious. In that same vein, Akhavan doesn't shy from stripping down or putting herself into scenarios, sexual and otherwise, that will make some viewers squirm."
For Sheila O'Malley at "RogerEbert.com," when Shirin remarks, "Can you tell I'm dead inside just by looking at me?", that's an example of the "deadpan" tone throughout the film. O'Malley insists that, "The appeal of the relationship with Maxine is never really evident in the film, and that is one of the flaws of the deadpan approach." She describes the relationship with Maxine (told through flashbacks) as "all-consuming, and Shirin has sentimentalized it in memory, telling a friend, "We were an It Couple." Maxine is self-righteous and judgmental, cloaked in identity politics. On their first meeting, Shirin, drunk, wearing a tiara at a New Year's Eve party, looks at Maxine's rather severe outfit and says, "I love dykes." Maxine tells her how offensive that word is. Shirin is baffled. She meant it as a compliment." O'Malley likes Akhavan's "awkwardness" and "defense mechanisms." O'Malley also echoes the theme of Shirin having difficulty fitting in: "Maxine thinks Shirin is a tourist in the gay world. But Shirin is a tourist everywhere: that's the problem."
Andrew O'Hehir in "Slant Magazine" sees that Shirin's refusal to come out of the closet is by no means a selfish act: "In 21st-century Brooklyn-political terms, we're supposed to see Shirin's refusal to come out as an act of cowardice. It's that too, but Akhavan also makes us feel that Shirin's willingness to allow her parents their circumlocutions and obfuscations ? they know without knowing, accept without discussion, tell themselves lies they know to be lies ? is in its own peculiar way an act of generosity. If this is a familiar kind of film with a familiar setting and a familiar resolution, that intense delicacy makes it clear that its creator is an unusual talent."
Katie Walsh in "The Playlist" makes a good case that Akhavan mainly is promoting a "be yourself" (with all one's attendant flaws) philosophy: "This is expertly demonstrated in the silly and hilarious movie that Shirin makes with her band of five-year-old boys, as embracing exactly what they want to do allows her to see the merit in embracing exactly what she wants on her own terms. What we understand from this, even in all of its scatological glory, is the cathartic power of filmmaking in representing and understanding one's own identity."
Eric Kohn in "Indieworld" can't help but argue in substance that "Appropriate Behavior" is optimistic to the core: "Despite its protagonist's rapid-fire cynicism, the movie is never consumed by pessimism. As it stretches back to Shirin's initial courtship with Maxine, Akhavan smartly reinforces the nature of their bond: The older, confident Maxine escapes the anxieties of growing older through Shirin's blind idealism, while Shirin identifies Maxine's ire as a form of fashionable snark that the younger woman admires. During their initial flirtation, Shirin gushes, "I hate so many things, too!" The exchange initially reads as heartwarming but in retrospect also points to their eventual discord."
Despite all the accolades, "Appropriate Behavior" does have a few shortcomings, particularly in its underdeveloped portrait of the protagonist's parents. In addition, David Rooney, writing in "The Hollywood Reporter" found the ending to be abrupt: "While her pit stops frequently suggest a bi-now/gay-later woman destined to shed that denial, the story's soft resolution merely settles for a vaguely consolatory "she'll-be-fine" shot as a cue to the standard closing blast of whimsical indie rock."
Stephen Holden of "The New York Times" perhaps sums it up best: "for all its disorganization and lack of an ending or even a sense of direction, "Appropriate Behavior" is alive. The screenplay is packed with smart remarks, clever and unpredictable turns of phrase that knock you off balance. Little set pieces in which Shirin goes shopping for sexy lingerie and takes part in a gay-rights discussion group give you the flavor of a neighborhood in which everyone has an edge. A stoned, laid-back attitude is not the same thing as relaxation."