Lame Adventure 451: Appropriate Behavior

Recently I attended a screening at the Film Society of Lincoln Center of Appropriate Behavior, a romantic comedy set in Brooklyn about hipsters. Shirin is an Iranian-American bisexual obsessing about Maxine, her cool butch lesbian ex-girlfriend, following their crash and burn breakup. The story time travels back and forth when they were happily together in the recent past with newly single Shirin disastrously coping in her miserable present. My expectations for this film hovered at the bottom of the ocean. Much to my surprise, I found this briskly paced debut feature by screenwriter-director-star, Desiree Akhavan, who plays Shirin, entertaining. It’s witty, she’s pretty and this edgy tale is packed with sex, angst and colorful glimpses into Iranian American culture and customs.

What’s not to like?

Something I wasn’t wild about was The Knuckle Dragger who stood directly in front of me completely blocking my view after the film ended, just as the q&a was about to start. Eventually, Lurch realized that they had more in common with a door than a window. Often, I find the questions asked in film screening q&a’s painfully stupid. For example:

Audience Member: How many of you [actors] were playing yourself?

Did this person think that Akhavan had directed a documentary?

Desiree Akhavan standing as she fields audience questions.

Desiree Akhavan (standing) as she fields audience questions.

Akhavan, who has extensively screened her film on the festival circuit, was an admirable pro fielding such an idiotic question that drew audience gasps or maybe I was just hearing the sound of my own less than silent GERD. I later realized that it could be interpreted as a backhanded compliment. Akhavan did a commendable job directing her actors who were very well cast. She and Rebecca Henderson, who plays Maxine, had palpable chemistry.

Akhavan has been referred to as “the Persian Lena Dunham”. Dunham is a major player in the zeitgeist and no doubt Akhavan would love to follow that “it” girl’s influential lead. The comparisons are obvious: Akhavan has screen presence, a clever way with words and she is very comfortable both behind and in front of the camera. For the fourth and current season of Girls, Dunham has written Akhavan into her hit series. That strikes me as a vote of confidence from Dunham to Akhavan.

During the q&a Akhavan admitted that her screenplay was influenced by Woody Allen’s Annie Hall. In lieu of revealing any spoilers, I detected some homage to Mike Nichols’ The Graduate. Appropriate Behavior also brought to mind an early Ang Lee film, The Wedding Banquet, a romantic comedy about an Asian American son’s anxiety over admitting that he is gay to his immigrant parents. Shirin is in the closet to her parents. The stress to come out contributes to her neurosis and adds to her problems with Maxine. Akhavan is blatantly and subtly borrowing from some of the best veteran filmmakers, but I also recognized a unique voice and perspective that is her own. I look forward to seeing what she directs next.

Desiree Akhavan

Desiree Akhavan – you go girl! (Dress from Opening Ceremony for those into knowing that sort of thing).

Appropriate Behavior opens January 16th in New York City at the IFC Center, and theaters in select cities coast to coast. Check local listings. It’s also available on iTunes. Sex, partial nudity, drugs and 90 painless minutes when q&a-free.

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35 responses to “Lame Adventure 451: Appropriate Behavior

  1. Thanks for an insightful review.

    R.

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  2. Sounds like she is one to watch (and gorgeous, to boot!) As to stealing, when you steal, steal like an artist. She did, according to this book page by Austin Kleon: http://austinkleon.com/2011/03/30/how-to-steal-like-an-artist-and-9-other-things-nobody-told-me/

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  3. Very interesting, but probably not a film I would rush to see. However, dealing with dumb questions is a reason I seldom listen to radio talk shows that involve callers …. simply too painful!

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  4. The question that I hate at these things are always when the q-er tells their life story instead of actually asking any sort of question.I’m there to hear Miranda July talk not some pretentious idiot who thinks they are the center of the universe.

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    • So you’ve run into that moviegoer, too! People who choose to ramble instead of ask anything remotely resembling an intelligent question are like a blister on the q&a. I wish everyone would heed the wisdom of the song, Psycho Killer: “When I have nothing to say, my lips are sealed.” And toss in some fa fa fa fa fa fa fa’s, too, for good measure.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Great review, V. Sounds like the film is quite worth seeing. I’ll watch for it. We have a small “Art Cinema” here, so hopefully it will make it to the hinterlands!

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    • That’s very kind of you to call this trifle of a review great, Cathy, but this film is good, so Akhavan rates a shout out. I think it’s playing now, or will soon open in Denver, but as Rick didn’t say to Elsa in Casablanca: “We’ll always have iTunes.”

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  6. It looks like a great flick, V. I hope it gets an audience. I like all the influences you mentioned. Thanks for the review!

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    • You’re welcome, Amy. It definitely has an audience, but it helps to get the word out. It doesn’t have a big movie studio’s publicity machine backing it, nor is there anything that controversial in it that will piss off any thin skinned dictators.

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  7. I’m not much of a movie goer but when I do partake, I enjoy the independent variety so this one might rate on my list. How did you not smack Lurch?

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  8. Will Be on the lookout for it. It sounds like an interesting movie.

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  9. As I doubt it will come to Dallas, I will look for it on ITunes. Thanks for the recommendation.

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  10. Somehow, I got the impression you liked this film 🙂 It’s not easy being one of those stand-up, get-in-the-way kind of guys. Blocking someone’s view requires strategy and planning–not that I have any personal experience myself, you understand.

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    • That film was a nice debut by a first-time filmmaker. As for Lurch standing up and leaning on the railing directly in front of my seat before the start of the q&a of this sold out screening, Russell, that took no strategy or planning, all it took was complete clueless-ness.

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  11. For such a small town, New York seems to attract a decent amount of art. Weird!

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  12. This sounds like a flick I would enjoy. Not sure I could handle stupid questions with such panache. I don’t handle stupidity well.

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    • You and The Better Half would enjoy this film. And Miles and Att would enjoy sleeping through it. But then again, your critters can pretty much sleep though anything. The humans in your family would not nod out.

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  13. Hey V.A.
    Read a review of this film by SF critics and it is certainly a complicated subject. I live in a building in SF where 3 of the 6 units are owned by former Persians- (Iranians) -all escaped after the Shad was disposed. One is a woman who studied in NY at the time and married a Jewish guy and enjoyed a very long and happy marriage; one was in Paris in the Iranian diplomatic corp. and was told by her father at the time of the coup not to return home due to dangers, and got to NY and now resides in SF and free to be a lesbian , the last is a Jewish Persian–can’t recall the connection with that– although his female partner from the Mid-west converted to Judaism to be his partner.. So, yes, a very complicated milieu. All these people are so brave to make their choices and definitely made personal sacrifices in pursuit of happiness and to be true to themselves…..

    Yep, I remember how annoyed you get with those people who sit right in front of you in the next row….even if there are plenty of empty seats throughout the theater.

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    • That sounds quite harrowing what your Iranian acquaintances endured before settling in San Francisco, Cindy. Glad that they’re all safe and sound in Baghdad by the Bay. The protagonist in Appropriate Behavior is about as brave and heroic as an after dinner mint, and that film is equally as deep, but I thought it was entertaining.

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  14. Sounds like a great flick. I loved hearing about the other films that influenced this one.
    I saw Selma a few weeks ago. So, so powerful.

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  15. Don’t places like Iran execute people for being gay? So coming out would probably mean never going to visit any relatives still living there, and if the parents are of the old country mindset it could certainly make issues with them as well. (OK so it is just a movie, but there are bound to be actual people going through that sort of thing.)

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    • I seem to recall that there might have been a flip joke by the protagonist about being stoned to death if she were in a lesbian relationship in Iran, but this protagonist is Iranian American. It seemed like her extended family were settled in New Jersey. It’s a pretty light film with a central focus on the failed romance.

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