Of late, young heroines have been the subject of adventure franchises representing a new age of strong female leads in cinema but as shown mostly through US television programmes, not all women are as switched on and focussed in their lives. Struggling to find herself is twenty-something Iranian-American bisexual Brooklynite Shirin in Desiree Akhavan’s comedy drama ‘Appropriate Behavior’ where she writes, directs and stars in the central role. With the pressures of both modern life and her controlling family, Shirin feels she has no comfortable place to fit in, but on her snarky and sarcastic surface doesn’t appear to want to be categorised within contemporary society despite the aforementioned labels attached. Though not entirely a new idea to follow a city slicker en route to self-discovery (a very Woody Allen-esque concept), the added religious overtones combined with her open-minded attitude towards sexuality offers plenty of fresh ground to cover and explore.
With the use of a non-linear structure, we witness Shirin’s relationship with ex-girlfriend Maxine in its messy entirety, showing the range of emotion the character goes through and contrasting it with her current state of unfulfillment. Because of this flashback technique, the development of Shirin is rich and complex and we are with her every misguided step of the way. Scenes with her parents are amusing as her awkward jokes go over heads and she manages to successfully pass Maxine off as a flatmate, not a sexual partner, even though they inhabit a one bedroom apartment with only one bed. In the present, she attends trendy parties, tries to maintain her unsteady job in haphazardly teaching filmmaking to small children, and continues to lead a somewhat experiment love life. Each scenario is played out with comical social insecurity and Akhavan’s charm soaks into every frame.
‘Appropriate Behavior’ is funny, current and brutally honest, and as a debut feature from Desiree Akhavan is promising. The tight script openly contains culture references which allude to the clear influences involved in crafting the vision so even though it is largely derivative material, it is at least aware of this, and very much so. If it was anymore self-aware, it’d break the fourth wall. What the character-driven narrative does so well is dig behind the wacky hipster exterior, peeling back the pretence to reveal a genuine, well-meaning person who is yearning for a sign to put her on the right path in life. As Shirin herself wittily puts it, she is ‘one bad romantic encounter away from moving to France and changing identity’. Let’s hope it doesn’t go that far because this is a woman everyone should get to know.