Desiree Akhavan writes, directs and stars in her feature debut, which follows a young, bi-sexual, Iranian American, Shirin, who is trying to recover from her recent break-up. As we watch Shirin navigate the fall out of breaking up with a live-in girlfriend (new job, for more money, for the new apartment with the weird and arty roommates) the story flashes back to retell Shirin and her girlfriend Maxine’s meet cute and eventual relationship over the years.
The dialogue, the pacing, the direction, everything on the filmmaking side I was very impressed with in Appropriate Behavior. The transitions between time are seamless and really keep the viewer in Shirin’s mindset as we see what she is thinking about when triggered by something in the present. Akhavan’s camera is very intimate and really lets you sit in some interesting situations and she populated her cast with a lot of solid actors to pop in and out of the story. The film’s ensemble gives you a little bit of everything and you never know where a lot of them are coming from. Such a diverse cast of interesting characters is an impressive feat by Akhavan as I constantly found myself curious about the rest of these people’s lives almost as much Shirin.
I mentioned above that I was not a fan of Akhavan as an actress, and this is a bit of a problem seeing that she is in nearly every frame of the movie. She is, easily, the worst actor in the film. She isn’t HORRIBLE, but she certainly isn’t good either. I really wonder what this film could have been with a more accomplished actress in the role, even if I get that this is a personal story for her. Sofia Coppola knew when to cast Scarlett Johansson in her autobiographical tale.
The cast as a whole is pretty solid, but a couple of people really stand out. Rebecca Henderson is so good as Shirin’s lover, Maxine, and while she is painted a little too irrational and vindictive at times she makes the role feel real. Halley Feiffer is also really funny in her few all too brief appearances, I wish she was put in more movies if you ask me.
Appropriate Behavior is an impressive debut for writer director Desiree Akhavan and I am very excited to see what she does next. I know it sounds mean to say she is best to stay behind the camera, but maybe she can stick to co-star roles in her films until she hones her skills as an actor. Spending more time behind the camera might also help Akhavan make the leap that I think she might be capable of. I eagerly await what she does next, but Appropriate Behavior is well worth your time even if I have a couple of reservations.