The first-time feature director carries a lot of weight on their already burdened shoulders. Firstly, the large lack of expectations, although freeing, means it’s far more difficult for the would-be auteur to round up the cash (let alone the means) to get their movie off the ground. Secondly, there’s the rather sobering fact that no one knows your name – yet. But for director, writer, and star of Appropriate Behaviour, Desiree Akhavan, that’ll be more a question of ‘when’, not ‘if’.
Shirin (Desiree Akhavan) is a bisexual Iranian-American Brooklynite. If these were already some big life aspects to deal with, she’s also going through a cataclysmic break-up with her (now ex)-girlfriend Maxine (Rebecca Henderson). Reshuffling her life and figuring out what to do with it seems like the only option for her to take, but in order to move on, there are other things standing in the way: she hasn’t come out to her parents; she’s just moved to a different part of town; she doesn’t entirely know what she is, let alone who. She may be the modern-day, metropolitan Annie Hall, but the problem is, she’s Woody Allen too.
Akhavan, through nothing more than totally being herself, has crafted this year’s Frances Ha or Obvious Child. It’s a New Yorker dramedy that has its politically-correct head screwed on firmly, while also giving time to the smaller, funny moments along the way. Shirin’s narrative is told non-linearly: fragments, or flashbacks, paint this personal picture with a dramatic clarity that would otherwise have been lost in a movie with less sincerity. The result would have otherwise been sloppy, or pretentious at worst – but the time-hopping screenplay actually lends more of a distinct personality, as opposed to mere gimmick.
Of course, beside the structure are the performances: Akhavan, in a triple-header, plays the lead in her directing / writing project, and rather than reminding us of Ben Affleck-in-Argo levels of misguided self-confidence, it’s very much the W word again: playing some version, but not an identical version, of herself, Akhavan follows in Woody Allen’s self-conscious footsteps to introspective glory, and can stand alongside similarly-minded stars like Lena Dunham in their abilities to portray alternative ways of life. Appropriate Behaviour is superb first-time feature filmmaking from a director whose name we’ll learn soon enough.