I’ve often said I’m not big on the comedy genre in movies and that it takes a very sharp, witty and often satirical take on humour for that genre to seemingly appeal to me at all. I feel like lately I’ve been stepping out of my usual indie movie flavours and experimenting with a random dash of humour and getting rewarded for my courage.
Appropriate Behaviour is a humorous, at times audacious yet thoroughly amusing take on several issues ranging from being an immigrant in modern day New York to living with a queer sexual orientation, coming out of the closet, dealing with heartbreak, growing as a person and simply being in your 20’s and what that entails. While all of this could easily be made into a five season long television show on HBO with a studded star-cast and a strong soundtrack, Desiree Akhavan – the writer, director and lead actress in the movie successfully wraps it all up in about 80 minutes.
Starring as Shirin, an Iranian immigrant living in NYC, Desiree effectively puts forth the bubble of her world as a bisexual young woman simply trying to get by. The movie flows back and forth to her relationship with a white girl named Maxine – that is, to be honest – doomed from the start. Post this devastating break-up with Maxine, Shirin is a big, hot mess. Shirin, although very spontaneous, upbeat and perky is a sensitive person under all that and wants Maxine back so bad.
The underlying reason for the break-up that Shirin can’t seem to shake off is the fact that she couldn’t come out of the closet and tell her parents. Her Iranian parents, with Iranian values and an Iranian straight elder son, set out to marry a girl from his medical profession. Shirin terms it as older child syndrome where the older kid wants to be perfect for his parents and do everything right but deep down is simmering and could one day pull out a gun in a public place. Shirin made me laugh and reminded me a little bit of me and that made my day.
Shirin’s the obvious centre of this story and even though the movie felt so familiar – I later figured out why – she does a stupendous job at keeping you gripped start to finish. She has a strong camera presence, lovely set of expressions, much grace in her acting and a whole lot of gumption that makes you love her but also sometimes pity her.
The issues Shirin faces trying to find in Brooklyn – an apartment, a decent job, the right partner – will strike a chord of commonality in anyone, in any part of the world. What I love is how Appropriate Behaviour doesn’t dwell too much on a particular problem, doesn’t poke humour too hard at say a scene between her potential employer and herself wherein he reacts to her Iranian origins in the most clichéd way imaginable. It’s refreshing when comic elements are in the slights and not all over the place in that metaphorical slapstick manner. It’s even more appealing when characters try to keep their sense of humour even in their darkest days.
Appropriate Behaviour is clearly an achievement as a debut film and is definitely a movie worth watching with your bunch of friends on a Friday night sleepover. If you’ve watched Blue Is The Warmest Colour (and loved it as I did) you will find that Appropriate Behaviour is actually a superfluous take on that same film. I don’t know if this comparison has been drawn by anyone else before but certain scenes, dialogues between the lead lesbian couple and arguments brought back distinct flashes of that movie in my mind. Which makes it tough for me to love Appropriate Behaviour as much as I would like to. Nevertheless, a movie that grips me from start to finish, resonates with my personal understanding of human nature and sneaks in a good few laughs is definitely a depiction of good cinema.