Director: Desiree Akhavan
Screenplay: Desiree Akhavan
Producers: Cecilia Frugiuele
Starring: Desiree Akhavan, Rebecca Henderson, Scott Adsit
BBFC Certification: 15
Duration: 90 mins
The second film from independent UK production company Parkville Pictures, Appropriate Behaviour is the directorial debut of Iranian-American writer/director/star Desiree Akhavan. Arriving in the mid-2010s, Appropriate Behaviour seems very much like a film out of time. Although Akhavan has spoken about the influence of Ingmar Bergman’s Scenes From a Marriage and Woody Allen’s Annie Hall on the film, its roots seem to be planted more firmly in the 90s indie boom of films about troubled, neurotic hipsters who do little but talk lots. Nicole Holofcener’s very good 1996 indie Walking and Talking instantly springs to mind, although that film was significantly warmer and more charming. Appropriate Behaviour aims instead for a hip cynicism but its Generation X throwback attitude creates a bunch of characters too detached, self-conscious, self-obsessed and smug to relate to, unless you happen to share their personality traits and outlook.
All of this is not to say that Appropriate Behaviour doesn’t have its good points. I’m convinced that if this film had come out in the 90s when I was obsessed with American Indie films above any other kind, I probably would have loved it. After all, while Desiree Akhavan may not make the most likable star, she has at least written herself a few very funny lines and moments. Her character Shirin’s perpetual curse to make the wrong decision seems to be the character trait we are invited to identify with over any other and it occasionally leads to some interesting places. The non-linear structure, which intersperses the story of Shirin’s previous relationship with her hopeless attempts to get over its collapse, also makes for a more interesting and diverse narrative. Shirin may be inadequate both in and out of relationships but seeing these two sets of circumstances side by side adds an interesting dimension. Appropriate Behaviour also doesn’t overstay its welcome, sticking to a punchy 90 minute timeframe characteristic of its indie roots.
But while the film may be short, sharp and funny in bursts, it also gets weighed down by its own self-analysis and concessions to indie expectations. One scene in particular, involving an awkward threesome, seems equally awkward in execution. It is set up and followed through in just a few minutes and the scene itself, while not inconsistent with Appropriate Behaviour’s commendable sexual frankness, walks the line between necessary character exploration and semi-tasteful indie sex scene thrown in to add a bit of spice and notoriety. Anyone looking for titillation will probably be disappointed but anyone looking for narrative development will be equally frustrated. Ultimately, this may be Appropriate Behaviour’s biggest problem. Shirin is a very hard character to get a grip on and this must be attributed to a mixture of Akhavan’s writing, directing and acting. Sure, she’s written some funny lines but her rather flat and charmless performance makes it hard to read exactly what she’s feeling, except in the moments when she tells us in one of the film’s numerous bursts of irritating self-analytical dialogue wrapped in smug pseudo-ironic monotone. This approach keeps the audience at arms-length when we badly need to feel included in the relationships onscreen in order for them to have any impact. One scene, in which Shirin finally makes a tentative stab at coming out to her mother, momentarily overcomes this emotional dearth and, given the build-up throughout the film to this inevitable moment, Akhavan nicely judges the moment and manages to sidestep melodrama, histrionics or sentimentality, presenting us with Appropriate Behaviour’s most real and effective moment. It’s too little too late but it does provide a last minute reassurance that the promise glimpsed in elements of the script may be built on from a directorial angle in future projects, even if the film finally cops out with one of those dreadful ‘she’ll be fine, folks’ endings in which the camera holds for too long on a would-be enigmatic moment of self-realisation.
Appropriate Behaviour is released on DVD on June 29th 2015. Extras include interviews with the director and producer, a behind the scenes featurette and a director's commentary