Appropriate Behaviour

Black Comedy, 1h 30m

A secretly bisexual Brooklynite from a traditional Persian family struggles with her identity and the disintegration of her relationship with her girlfriend.


Carried by a sarcastic levity, the film dances around some complex issues

 Appropriate Behaviour is an artsy, off-beat comedy which follows Shirin (Desiree Akhavan), a sharp but directionless Brooklynite, as she processes a breakup. Told in a series of flashbacks, the story chronicles the peaks and troughs of her relationship to Maxine (Rebecca Henderson). Through coming to terms with her new singlehood, peppered with a series of sexual misadventures, Shirin considers her bisexuality in the context of her New York life and her Iranian heritage.

Carried by a sarcastic levity, the film also dances around some complex issues. Among being othered by colleagues for her heritage, disparaged by her girlfriend for her limited involvement in LGBTQ issues, and terrified to come out to her parents, Shirin exists on the periphery of many circles. In belonging to cultures which overlap, complement and clash in different places, it seems there is nowhere that she can comfortably be fully herself.  

The film also explores the risk of embedding into one community at the potential expense of other parts of your identity. Crucially, Maxine and Shirin deal with this in different ways, each rolling their eyes at the other for their choices and perspective. Shirin flits between her Persian world and her queer world, which she is certain cannot co-exist. As such she keeps her sexuality, and her relationship, a secret. Maxine, on the other hand, lost contact with her family as a result of coming out and is rooted firmly in her queerness. Forced back into the closet around Shirin’s family, she now must play the role of thrifty roommate, too stingy to even have her own bed. The inherited shame that Maxine must share, coupled with her defiant refusal to understand the weight of Shirin’s situation, causes the relationship to break. 

Every character in Appropriate Behaviour has been dialled up a fraction of a mark. Yet, they deliver their thoughts with such dead-pan assuredness that it sounds for a second as if they are being quite reasonable. They’re not, generally.  Still, beyond the pithy one-liners is a host of delightfully complex female characters who charm through their human, imperfect honesty.

All in all, Akhavan’s debut feature is as hilarious as it is uncomfortably relatable. Shirin ambles around the complexity of her intersecting identities with an off-kilter humour that runs through all of Akhavan’s work. What prevails is an honest, heart-warming, hysterical piece of cinema which reminds us that it’s okay to be blundering through, figuring things out.

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Reviewer and Writer

Molly has been studying and working across film for almost a decade – from production to impact campaigns, analysis and the occasional acting stint.