Appropriate Behavior

Appropriate Behavior is a film written by, directed by, and starring Desiree Akhavan. The film tells the tale of Shirin, a bisexual Iranian American women in her twenties, finding her way after breaking up with her first girlfriend, Maxine. Trying to bounce back from the broken relationship, Shirin attempts to move on with her life by finding a new job, exploring new sexual experiences, and finally buying a bra. Deciding whether or not to come out to a strict and traditional family contributes to Shirin’s daily struggle of moving on and finding happiness. The film jumps from present moment to flashback every few minutes it seems, but the catch up you play as scenes change put you in the same jumbled mindset Shirin is in. The flashbacks also make you feel as if you are going through the break up with Shirin. The opening scene show the lover’s separation, then as the movie goes along, Shirin remembers the good times she and Maxine had together: the first time they met, Maxine meeting Shirin’s parents, attending a Persian New Years party. And then the bad memories come flooding back: Maxine pressuring Shirin to come out to her parents, Shirin catching Maxine making out with a man at a bar, and actually breaking up. We see that Shirin has finally moved on when she tosses the strap-on dildo (the only item remaining from the relationship) away and can now handle seeing Maxine.

Desiree has been continuously compared to Shirin. They are both bisexual Iranian American women in their twenties/thirties raised by Iranian immigrant parents.  When Desiree wrote this screenplay she had just gone through a horrible break up and had just come out to her parents, two events that Shirin goes through in the film. It is easy to claim that Appropriate Behavior is autobiographical, but as Desiree points out in this interview, there is a difference between Shirin and herself.

“I think Shirin is all of my most absurd impulses explored, a bit like a choose-your-own-adventure. It felt like a heightened, absurd version of everything you would hope to do, but definitely know better than.”

Shirin represents Desiree’s id. Shirin is everything that Desiree would choose to do if it wasn’t for her superego telling her not to. Throughout the movie you can see that Shirin is the girl that does whatever she wants without worrying about the consequences. She asks a woman out right in front of her ex-girlfriend, randomly meets up with men from okcupid, and makes a movie about farts starring kindergarteners. While Desiree claims to be very shy and reserved. Desiree’s film id is Shirin, so Desiree’s film superego is Shirin’s brother, Ali. According to their parents, Ali has done everything right. He became a doctor, found a beautiful Persian doctor girlfriend, and is planning his wedding. In the article mentioned above, Desiree explained that she feels as if she does not belong in the groups she is a part of, yet she is still a part of them. The depiction of Shirin and Ali as the id and superego place Desiree as the place in the middle, the ego.

The sex scenes in Appropriate behavior help tell the story. You see Shirin in a variety of sexual encounters and Desiree’s goal was to show realistic and honest sex in her film. The match cut between Shirin and the okcupid man and Shirin and Maxine directly compares Shirin’s emotions and feelings in each different sexual experience. Shirin is obviously more into sex with Maxine and feels a stronger connection with her. Shirin’s emotional involvement is also visible in the threesome scene. When Shirin is with Marie they feel connected and enjoy each other, but with Ted, Shirin loses her interest and backs off. The sex scenes show Shirin’s desires (id) and her interest in embracing her sexuality. Through these scenes, we also see how Shirin connects with people and the relationships she has with them.

This film is thought-provoking and full of life. The deadpan humor is continuous throughout the entire film. The hilarious one-liners will stick with you. The storyline is relatable and keeps you hanging on to see the outcome of Shirin’s adventures. Desiree Akhavan tells this story beautifully and she is surely an artist to watch out for.