Desiree Akhavan in "Appropriate Behavior"

Review: Desiree Akhavan Finds Her Way With “Appropriate Behavior”

In the Park Slope that Shirin (Desiree Akhavan) calls home, there are no lack of Kickstarter campaigns to fund films that might look an awful lot like “Appropriate Behavior,” the film she finds herself in. Stuck in a quarterlife malaise following her breakup with a girlfriend (Rebecca Henderson) and not enough of a self-starter to actually do much about the career she wants as a video artist, Shirin has become a bit of a cliche though as she’ll prove time and again, she’s well out of step with others for (mostly) better or worse.

Ignorance may be bliss for Shirin since knowledge of what’s going on only seems to create more anxiety, yet Akhavan is quite savvy both in playing her and writing her, following certain well-worn story tropes just to upend them. Akhavan’s Persian heritage certainly adds a different wrinkle to the film, though whether her parents will approve of her sexuality is one of the most conventional of the film’s plotlines. However, she demonstrates a distinctive comic voice as Shirin wanders in search of something solid to build upon, noticing everywhere she goes that one piece always seems to be out of place, whether it’s the filmmaking class she’s offered to teach…for five-year-olds or the threesome she’s invited to take part in where she realizes she’s a third wheel.

Desiree Akhavan and Halley Feiffer in "Appropriate Behavior"As a filmmaker, Akhavan is clearly a fan of constructing big comic moments, but it’s her keen observational eye and her self-awareness of who she is as a performer that tend to produce the most gutteral laughs. Even as she leans heavily on Shirin’s discomfort with anything remotely difficult in life, there’s a comfort within her own skin that proves slyly seductive as the center of attention, even amongst such proven scene-stealers as Halley Feiffer and “30 Rock”’s Scott Adsit. While “Appropriate Behavior” doesn’t refrain from the easy targets of Brooklyn hipster culture, with its lingerie shops that sell self-esteem along with their bras and parties populated with dudes with waxed Salvador Dali mustaches, it also envisions the borough as a place for Shirin to indulge her worst impulses and become as trapped by the life she carved out for herself as the one her parents would’ve wanted for her.

Of course, “Appropriate Behavior” joins a collection of recent productions out of Brooklyn such as “Obvious Child” and “Fort Tilden” to investigate the cause of postponed adulthood while disproving the stereotype in the area by virtue of being made by filmmakers not far removed from the age of their main protagonists, if at all. That Akhavan has already been recruited by the most prominent of these ongoing concerns, Lena Dunham’s “Girls,” is hardly a surprise, though it’d be a shame if she were relegated to supporting player status for long. With a debut that announces an exciting and unique talent, Akhavan may play someone without direction onscreen, yet the same can’t be said for her off.

“Appropriate Behavior” opens on January 16th in limited release and on demand. A full list of theaters and dates is here.

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