Female Filmmaker Friday: Appropriate Behavior (2014)
I have been waiting to see The Miseducation of Cameron Post since it premiered at Sundance. Its first screening was after I had already left Park City and my heart was broken. As I wait patiently for the movie to make its way to my city while seeing the reviews tumbling out bit by bit, I needed to rewatch another film from director Desiree Akhavan that deserves attention.
Some may recall Desiree Akhavan as the female lead in 2017’s Creep 2. I remember hearing that she was the lead and jumping for joy because only about a month prior to its release date, I watched Akhavan’s 2014 directorial feature debut, Appropriate Behavior. She wrote, directed, and starred in this comedy and I was hooked immediately.
As seen in other films, New York is no walk in the park. The battle to fit in to its societal ways is a daily struggle. Appropriate Behavior tells the story of an Iranian bisexual woman named Shirin who lives in Bushwick. Shirin lives in a small, unkempt apartment with two other roommates after she and her girlfriend, Maxine (Rebecca Henderson), break up. Scenes of their relationship are juxtaposed to that of Shirin’s present day life.
Shirin is not just wrestling to fit in New York but to fit in altogether. Her life is all sorts of out of line. She has a Master’s in Journalism which isn’t being put to use and she’s teaching rambunctious 5 year olds at the Park Slope school how to create movies. As parents drop off their kids and scurry out the door, Shirin sees this as a babysitting job since she doesn’t know how to make movies and has difficulty settling the kids down.
Shirin is also struggling because her family doesn’t know that she is bisexual, and she is afraid of the repercussions were they to find out. At a Persian family gathering, Shirin tries to connect with the other girls at the party, and she does… for about 4 minutes. Unfortunately she feels like an outcast as she cannot live up to the standards of her culture like the other girls in her family. She lives life in secret and for this reason it puts a major dent in the relationship she has with Maxine. Shirin feels like they are an “it couple” but Maxine doesn’t appreciate the fact that she is hiding their relationship from her family. Maxine has qualms with Shirin and also believes she is just going through a phase being bisexual and ultimately their relationship falls apart. Shirin wants her back, so she continues to follow her around NYC to try and get that spark back. After Maxine starts to date one of Shirin’s coworkers, Shirin starts to realize what needs to be done. Shirin tries to pull herself together to make the best out of life. With help from her friends, she is able to vent out her frustration and see the light. Her dedication to her job flourishes and she grows more courage to reveal the things in life that are holding her back.
The only thing you want is for Shirin to be happy. She utters the words “Can you tell I’m dead inside just by looking at me?”, and you can feel that she is struggling to gain ground and figure out what is right and what she should do with her life. I feel like anyone can find some sort of relevance in this movie. Whether it’s struggles with your family, culture, sexuality, job, life in general, any viewer can relate. A scene involving a lingerie saleswoman giving Shirin a pep talk shows that no matter where you are, life will help you out when you least expect it. Comparing life to a pair of breasts and a bra was something I didn’t know I needed. I laughed, I cried, and I found comfort in this movie.
The characters and comedic script pave way for what I hope is an exciting career for Desiree Akhavan. Though it seems to be a conventional deadpan hipster New York indie flick, it holds much more than that. It is a film I feel that everyone should see. Appropriate Behavior became an instant favorite of mine and I cannot wait to see The Miseducation of Cameron Post.
Appropriate Behavior is streaming now on Amazon Prime.