Sparkling Debut from Rising Triple Threat
By Joseph R. Castel
Move over, Ellen and Rosie,there’s a new comic in town. Desiree Akhavan is hot—really hot.This indie director just starred in her own romantic comedy “Appropriate Behavior” and opened to rave reviews.She also recently joined the ensemble cast of HBO’s “Girls.”And Rolling Stone magazine named her one of the “25 Hottest Sex Symbols of 2015.”
From certain camera angles, the voluptuous Iranian-American resembles actress Sandra Bullock.From other angles, she looks like Hilary Swank with puffier lips.What’s more compelling than her uncanny star resemblance is her no-nonsense sharp dry wit and insightful self-deprecating comical nuances. Shirin’s character is quite beautiful, but she doesn’t embrace her beauty because of her self-esteem issues: she dresses sloppy and schleps around grimy Brooklyn with bad posture.
Akhavan stars in this poignantly hilarious film that she also wrote. She hooked me in the first two minutes,asShirin solemnly prepares to move out of her estranged girlfriend’s apartment. Her ex, Maxine (Rebecca Henderson) reminds Shirin not to forget the shoe box on her bed. “But I gave that to you as a gift,” she sadly replies. Cut to: Shirin tossing the shoe box in a dumpster, revealing a worn-out strap on dildo.
Shirinis a very self-aware, needy co-dependent misfit trying to blend in with selfie-indulgent New York hipster safter breaking up with the love of her life.A talented writer, Shirin quits her job at a Brooklyn newspaper to teach film making to six year-olds with ADD.
The story structure oscillates between flashbacks with Maxine, and Shirin going forward aimlessly without her disgruntled lover. Shirin desperately wants Maxine back, which is a bit of a mystery at first since Maxine’s an overly politically correct bully and condescending snob. But then we discover that Shirin suffers from low-self esteem as a closeted wannabe lesbian in the liberated shabby chic world of Brooklyn. To add insult to injury, Shirin doesn’t seem to fit in with family either, especially her shallow debutant cousins.
Shirin wallows in the gray areas of multiple cultures, sexual identities and outdated family traditions. She’s all too aware of the dualities in life but not sure how to solve her personal and professional dilemmas.
Her Iranian parents want her to meet a nice man and settle down. They foolishly overlook the fact that their daughter lived with another woman in a one bedroom apartment.When her father asks why there’s only one bed, she replies, “It’s European—and thrifty.”
After the breakup and pressure to marry, Shirin regretfully returns to men with the help of an online hetero hookup site. She meets a 30-year old hottie and texts him, “You want to meet up for a drink?” Cut to: Shirin and her new beau in an alley sipping wine wrapped in a paper bag.
“Appropriate Behavior” goes beyond the typical coming out clichés. Akhavan digs into life’s minutia with deft storytelling and proposes the question, “What is politically correct when living in such a complex and changing world?” Confused, she turns to awkward casual sex and booze to help calm her nerves and misgivings. The only possible answer for Shirin is to let go of her obsession with Maxine and her family’s expectations and to just start over.
What’s refreshing about Akhavan’s writing is that it steers away from cheesy sitcom laughs. It’s also not that sluggish deadpan offbeat smug humor so popular on HBO and Showtime these days. The film’s humor comes from the heart. For Shirin it’s a broken heart from trying to please everyone, including herself. She wants depth in her life, but she’s not sure how to reach it.Her humor derives from a place of deep angst, the most genuine of all comedy. Mark my words, Akhavan’s going to be a very big star.