Appropriate Behaviour is a comedy about breaking up and trying to move on. But it’s not the kind of comedy where you laugh five times a minute, or giggle when the characters say something funny, it’s the kind of situational comedy that makes you feel awkward and happy all at once. Shirin (Desiree Akhavan) is an Iranian woman who is trying to get her life on track after breaking up with her girlfriend Maxine (Rebecca Henderson). It’s not really working though because she can’t move on. She has countless escapades with men and women, trying to find someone to fill the hole that Maxine has left. Shirin is quick witted and incredibly self involved. She only seems to care about making Maxine jealous of her new lovers and trying to con her into loving her again.
Maxine is an out and proud lesbian but Shirin is hiding her bisexuality from her family for cultural and personal reasons. Maxine doesn’t really understand why she won’t come out, even when Shirin explains the persecution of gay people in Iran. With increasing pressure form her family to find a boyfriend after her brother announces his engagement, her life begins to tailspin even further, with her desperation to win back Maxine growing.
Appropriate Behaviour, written and directed by Akhavan, is a brilliant exploration of life after love. Inspired by Akhavan’s first relationship with a woman, the film concentrates on coping with heartbreak and the coming out process. While Shirin explains that her parents probably always know, but they are waiting for her to tell them and pretending they don’t know, she is still worried about their reaction. About if she will still be apart of her family. Maxine’s pressure to come out drives their relationship to a point where it can’t really go any further.
There is a refreshing lack of crying in Appropriate Behaviour. Too many times I’ve seen a film where a couple break up and there is the femme fatale that needs saving by their next big love. But this film is so far from that. It’s kind of brilliant and very funny. Even in her desperation, Shirin is a driven, strong woman who may not know what she wants, but is trying hard to get whatever it is. Akhavan has developed a character that learns from every person she meets, even if it might not be a good lesson to learn. There is no glamorisation of characters, and no unbelievable moments, everything seems very real.
Every minute of Appropriate Behaviour is engaging and entertaining. I didn’t once think ‘oh this scene is going a little long’ or ‘this doesn’t feel plausible’. I actually wanted more, more time to see how Shirin would grow, and how her life would change once she’d accepted the end of Maxine and her relationship. But I also liked how the story seemed unfinished, because it was only a fraction of Shirin’s life. But I think that’s what important about this film, one failed relationship is not your whole life, and is not your whole future.