In an awards season teeming with adorable, quirky romantic comedies, Desiree Akhavan’s decidedly unromantic comedy is a nice departure from average depictions of relationship woes. In ‘Appropriate Behavior’ protagonist Shirin (played by writer/director Akhavan) struggles with finding her way in the world, stuck between her traditional Iranian family’s expectations and her own desires after a break-up with her last girlfriend.
The not-so-commonly depicted basis of the struggle is that Shirin is a single bisexual woman. The story starts with the end of the relationship then backs-up, illustrating the pattern of hiding Shirin has committed to: when she dates men, she can fit into the mold set by her parent’s cultural expectations, but when she dates a woman, she falls into making excuses for why she’s bringing her “good friend” to the wedding or why they’re suddenly roommates …and sharing a bed. Concealment ends the relationship, one that was visibly based on tension from the beginning, and Shirin is left wallowing in her despair, pushed towards coming out to her family or continuing the cycle she’s caught up in.
The fascinating thing about the story is that it is not full of mushiness or passionate love. The most palpable feeling throughout is frustration, as the protagonist tests the waters with various partners, switches jobs, and reflects in her lonely moments. It’s more of a story of recovery from misery than of triumph. It’s realistic and grungy and most of Shirin’s dialogue illustrates her characteristic vacillation between deadly cynicism and understandable self-pity. This is a useful film image of what it means to be a young independent woman, alone and set on choosing a path in this time. If the characters aren’t lovable, which they don’t always have to be!, they are worth watching because they’re so relatable.