At the start of Desiree Akhavan’s Appropriate Behavior, a love affair has ended in a bitter split as twenty-something hipster Shirin (Akhaven) loads up an empty box and stalks out of her lover’s apartment. As she bemoans her fate to her best friend, the man-hungry Crystal (Halley Feiffer), Appropriate Behavior uses flashbacks to evoke both happy and miserable moments in the relationship. If this sounds like Woody Allen’s Annie Hall it is not a mere coincidence. Akhaven enlists the Annie Hall template just several degrees below plagiarism. However, the emphasis is radically different than in Annie Hall. As Shirin grouses to Crystal, “I need my girlfriend back. I really want to eat my feelings right now.” Not merely a hipster, Shirin is also a bisexual Iranian who is getting over an affair with a prickly lesbian, Maxine (Rebecca Henderson).
Unlike Allen’s Alvy Singer, who frequents the tony Upper East Side of Manhattan, Shirin and her gal pals haven’t crossed the bridge, their particular stomping grounds being upscale Park Slope and downscale Bushwick and, much like Allen, Akhaven’s camera drinks in those Brooklyn streets along with the bars, the hip shopping excursions (yes, there is even a scene in a bookstore), the three-ways, and the kinky parties (along with OK Cupid and Kickstarter campaigns). And Akhaven, like a millennial Allen or Neil Simon, is fast and loose with the one-liners. She chastises her snidely passive date by remarking, “What is up with your passive disinterest in everything? What happened at Wesleyan that did this to you?” Or speaking of her spending time in Iran, “I spent most of my time in Iran watching Disney videos while my aunt untangled jewelry.”
Appropriate Behavior is breezy, witty, and funny, with sequences that are frequently hilarious. A sequence in which Shirin lands a job teaching video production to five-year-olds is priceless – the advanced class is shooting a shot for shot remake of a scene from The Birds, while Shirin’s beginner’s class is putting together The Tale of the Lost Fart. And Shirin’s post-Maxine dates, in their eclectic wackiness, is reminiscent of yet another Woody Allen film Play It Again, Sam (one acquaintance declares, “Jacqueline and I met at Occupy Chelsea” while a folk singing comic states, “My comedy defies labels”).
But the character at the center of the film, Shirin, is a hollow soul. The are only two driving emotions in Shirin: her traumatic depression at her breakup with Maxine and her reluctance to inform her parents that she is bisexual. Shirin’s grieving over the breakup becomes narcissistic and annoying very quickly with nothing more at stake. The denseness of her seemingly intelligent parents in not realizing that Shirin is gay is completely unbelievable; when, finally, Shirin comes clean with her mother, the mother indicates to Shirin that she just should stop talking.
That scene is indicative of the film. Appropriate Behavior can be very smart and trendy, much like an episode of Girls. But without much at risk for the main character despiteall the possibilities inherent in her bisexuality and her Persian ancestry, at it’s best Appropriate Behavior is a piece of fluff and an amusing diversion. With a little more exploration, the film could have been much more than a kinky sitcom.