Appropriate Behaviour review

Anyone playing Sundance Bingo at last year’s festival would have shouted ‘Full house!’ something like ten minutes into Appropriate Behaviour, so perfectly does this movie exemplify a certain ‘type’ of indie feature, the kind that often dominates the line up in Park City.

But while Desiree Akhavan’s debut feature – she writes, directs and stars – may tread ground that’s already been covered in filmmakers’ footprints of all sizes, Appropriate Behaviour is easily interesting and engaging enough to get you past any feelings of over familiarity.

The film begins with Shirin, Akhavan’s character, newly single. She has just broken up with her girlfriend Maxine (Rebecca Henderson) and is struggling to find her way back to a comfortable place in the world. She has a journalism degree but has no drive to do anything with it, she’s close with her Persian family, but still hasn’t come out to them, she’s adrift and she’s conflicted.

Presumably heavily influenced by Annie Hall, with clear structural similarities, Akhavan tells the story of Shirin and Maxine’s relationship through a number of flashbacks. These are often juxtaposed exceptionally well, forming effective connections with edits between different temporal locations.

These also help Appropriate Behaviour seem a little less meandering than it actually is, though that wandering provides a neat reflection of Shirin’s own mental state. We watch as she drifts between Park Slope parties and Persian gatherings, all intercut with her and Maxine falling in and out of love and the fallout from their separation.

The ‘hook’ that keeps all of this from becoming an exercise in navel gazing is Akhavan’s superb grasp of dry comedy. Appropriate Behaviour is not the kind of film that will have you crying with laughter but it will most likely lead to many a wry grin. Akhavan writes excellent, funny dialogue, but she also impresses with a good understanding of comic timing, both in her delivery and also the editing. Cuts so often land in just the right place to accentuate an amusing line, a discipline that’s all too often lacking from modern comedies.

The cinematography by Chris Teague, who also shot Obvious Child, is unfussy and gets the job done but it does dish out a few trite indie cliches. Many scenes, for instance, have been rendered in a rather recognisable shade of auburn.

But while Appropriate Behaviour so often feels familiar, it’s anything but cliched. Akhavan has made a film that feels deeply personal but proves at the same time to be effectively universal. Her dry comedy and light touch help a number of tender, almost sweet scenes, and Akhavan certainly shows that she is capable of a subtle balancing act with her material. This is a solid debut from a very interesting new voice.

Appropriate Behaviour is in UK cinemas now.