No one really has their shit together in their twenties. Most everyone spends the decade experimenting with their “identity” through a randomly selected series of social trends, jobs, relationships, friendships and living situations. By the end of it, everyone’s exhausted and realises just getting through the day in one healthy piece leaves no extra energy to actually try and make a lasting impression of their “identity” on their surroundings (which is a bullshit endeavor anyway). No one fits into a box, and it takes a lot of failed attempts and collateral bruises to realise it.
APPROPRIATE BEHAVIOUR says this all in a much funnier, to-the-point and more convincing way. The film is so scatty and floundering that it perfectly evokes the lifestyle of a single twenty-something bi-sexual city dweller who’s apartment is in a constant state of chaos, who’s family can’t quite believe how unstructured their life is, and who is scrabbling at every glimmer of support they can find in the sea of uncertainty.
Desiree Akhavan’s baby – which she lovingly wrote, directed and lead-starred in – sees Shirin, the ‘Iranian bisexual teacher’, part of that generation of Brooklynites who’ve grown up seeing mass gentrification around them and can’t take any of it seriously, trying to slot herself into the New York life puzzle as a fully actualized person. It’s that hopelessly funny and hopelessly tragic conundrum of knowing the whole game is pathetic, whilst simultaneously trying to win it, that Desiree has captured so well. The blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moments that are hilarious because they ring so true.
Desiree is part of a wave of female filmmakers fictionalizing their lives on screen and creating hilarious, embarrassing, and bordering-on-gross comedies about what comes after the coming-of-age moment in life. A faux-sequel to films such as Lena Dunham’s TINY FURNITURE, APPROPRIATE BEHAVIOUR examines all manner of fears and anxieties millennials are facing, both on a surface level and with deeper issues like balancing your family’s religious expectations with your flourishing sexuality. Starkly explicit in the traditional sense, it’s the moments of failed intimacy, when Shirin and those around her fall short of being open and honest when it really matters, that feel the rawest. We all know how difficult it is sometimes to connect to those closest to us, and how easy it is to instead turn to a no-strings-attached stranger to fill the void. Sex is an important part of the story, but more interesting are those pre-and-post coital moments, when our defences are down and we are truly exposed. The storyline is fluid, jumping through time, grounding the film in Shirin’s emotions rather than traditional narrative.
Life is not a rom com, or a tragedy. It’s a washing up bowl of all the stories everyone has ever told, sploshing around us to create our own unique story. Part of Shirin’s appeal as a character is her aversion to people’s phoney attempts to promote images of themselves, unable to listen to her girlfriend’s woe-betide-me monologue at one point when she angrily tells her to stop her ‘lesbian orphan propoganda’. And why shouldn’t identity constructs be described as propoganda? If everyone is always trying to sell themselves as one thing or another, it’s no wonder there’s a whole generation floating around wondering why the hell it’s so hard to connect with people.But it’s certainly not all bad. The film is full of warmth and laughter, and Shirin is like a ray of sunshine, bouncing back from all the moments of heart ache and awkwardness, discrimination and confrontation, that women deal with throughout the day. She doesn’t shy away from life despite it all.
Desiree truly was the butter for the APPROPRIATE BEHAVIOUR bread, spreading herself over every aspect of the work as best she could. Predictably, patches come up a little thin. However most of it is melt-in-the-mouth. Above all, she may have set a new trend for Fart House Cinema (you’ll see).
The Final Word: Desiree shows us we’re all weirdos who have no idea what the hell we’re doing, and that’s beautiful
APPROPRIATE BEHAVIOUR is out in cinemas 6th March from Peccadillo Pictures
Read the original review for ScreenRelish here.