Appropriate Behavior

****

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Desiree Akhavan in Appropriate Behavior
"A solid, grounded piece of work that approaches its subject with a maturity remarkable for a first feature from a young director."

"I find your anger incredibly sexy," says Shirin (Desiree Akhavan) to the woman she's hitting on on New Year's Eve. "I hate a lot of things too."

If you're going to write about love, you have to understand hate. Far from the usual insipid luvvies who inhabit most romantic comedies, Shirin and the object of her affections (Rebecca Henderson's Maxine) are willful, obnoxious and undeniably charismatic people who feel very much a part of the real world. That world is a complicated place, however, and Shirin is struggling to find her balance in it. When the relationship ends, Maxine finally running out of patience, she finds herself adrift.

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In many ways, this is the story of a young woman confounded by acceptance. That she's a Persian immigrant feels like a big deal to her but doesn't ultimately make her stand out in New York. She gets the odd insulting remark about being bisexual, but for the most part nobody cares, and her hesitation to tell her mother might just stem from a fear that she'll find acceptance there, too. Even at work, her colleagues don't seem phased by her hopelessness when faced with a class of five year olds to whom she's supposed to teach filmmaking. So why is she so discontented? A series of sexual encounters provides no answers. Nor does her determination to win back Maxine seem like a realistic solution. She's faced with the far more difficult task of coming to terms with herself.

There's a desperate shortage of cinema out there telling the stories of lesbian and bisexual women. As a consequence, much of what is produced is painfully self-conscious and is hyped up way beyond its merits. Appropriate Behaviour is a breath of fresh air. It's a solid, grounded piece of work that approaches its subject with a maturity remarkable for a first feature from a young director. The performances are strong and the dialogue acutely well observed, so that the occasional laugh out loud moment doesn't distract from the immersiveness of the whole. Every film about New York must ultimately stand against the work of Woody Allen, and this one fares better than most, in part due to a sense of completeness that brooks no competition. It owns its space and its self-centeredness is as delightful as its heroine's.

If you hate a lot of things, this is a film you might like.

Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2015
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A young New Yorker struggles to understand herself in the aftermath of a break-up.
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