If Woody Allen were a tall Iranian bisexual woman with a gawky Sandra-Bullockish beauty and an exasperating, egocentric outlook on the world, Appropriate Behavior would have been his Annie Hall.
"Banal sex shouldn't happen until maybe a year into the relationship.... She wasn't even fucking you at the end," advises a best friend at the beginning of Appropriate Behavior, the indie film directed and written by the Iranian-American Desiree Akhavan.
Akhavan also stars as Shirin, the closeted, promiscuous Iranian-American who spends her onscreen time trying to regain the affection of her ever so slightly butchy ex-lover Maxine (Rebecca Henderson), with whom she was having the aforementioned banal sex. "Maybe it was just a phase," Shirin counters hopefully.
Switching back and forth from the present day to the highlights of the couple's past romantic moments, Behavior showcases why Shirin, a temporarily unemployed lass with a Masters in Journalism, grates on nearly everyone's nerves except her mother's. (Think Ali Pfefferman in Transparent.) With her gawky attractiveness, our heroine at first seduces the masses with her offbeat charm, then quickly repels the same when she opens her mouth and gets plain whiny, which is often. Imagine a spoonful of honey with a healthy dose of arsenic.
So as we get to trek along on Shirin's Quixotic journey in hope of a romantic resurrection, we behold her bed a gorgeous guy she found on OKCupid, move in with a hipster couple who met at an Occupy Chelsea gathering, try to play the perfect Persian daughter, woo an attractive LGBT-conscience-raising group leader, bicker constantly with her doctor brother, and become a third-wheel in a threesome with a sexy duo with a penchant for latex.
Seldom if ever are the climaxes happy. Even when she finally gets a job teaching filmmaking, she discovers at the last moment that her students are five-year-old boys. "The lens is way too close to your butt," she instructs. Not surprisingly, the final project is about farts and boogers.
But with often exceedingly clever lines, and while seldom veering off into the implausible (e.g. her seduction of a food co-op manager), Akhavan achieves moments when her character's inability to fly with the moment are so brutally honest, so emotionally naked, that you know are in the presence of a budding formidable director whose future offerings will just plain stagger you. - Brandon Judell
Mr. Judell has written on film for The Village Voice, indieWire.com, the New York Daily News, Soho Style, and The Advocate, and is anthologized in Cynthia Fuchs's Spike Lee Interviews (University Press of Mississippi) and John Preston's A Member of the Family (Dutton). He is also a member of the performance/writing group FlashPoint.