Breaking up with her older girlfriend Maxine (Rebecca Henderson) with little to show for the relationship but a broken heart and a heroically proportioned strap-on dildo, twenty-something underachieving Iranian-American Shirin (Desiree Akhavan) finds herself adrift in Brooklyn’s hipster paradise, wallowing in her grief, trying to piece together where it all went wrong with the sardonic aid of BFF Crystal (Halley Feiffer).

Still in the closet to her traditional Persian family (sophisticated and urbane parents Anh Duong and Hooman Majd and over-achieving doctor brother Arian Moayed), Shirin moves into a flat-share with a couple of pretentious artists (who you just know probably play synth), gets a job teaching film-making to the local bourgeoisie’s primary school kids and disastrously launches herself on the dating scene while trying to win back Maxine.

Smart and funny with a protagonist who’s sympathetic and relatable without being overly likeable, it’s almost inevitable that Iranian-American writer/director Desiree Akhavan’s semi-autobiographical debut feature Appropriate Behaviour will be compared to Lena Dunham and Girls not least because of it’s sexual frankness.

But that does Akhavan a massive disservice because while her heroine is every bit as neurotic and self-absorbed as the protagonists of every hipster mumblecore comedy to escape from SXSW in the last decade there’s also a sweetness to her, a bumbling charm, a far from innocent naïve enthusiasm perfectly illustrated by the fledgling bisexual’s first meeting with Maxine on the stoop outside a New Year party they’re both attending, a drunk Shirin initially insulting her soon-to-be lover by exclaiming “I love dykes!” prompting a lecture on identity and queer politics before a romantic first kiss.

While sexuality and gender politics are obviously addressed, the traditional Iranian/lesbian culture clash is nicely understated, reminding me a lot of the work of London Turkish-Cypriot performance artist Mem Morrison. Shirin’s identity is fluid; her behaviour at any given time is appropriate depending on who she’s with – the sexual adventuress with her lesbian lover, the respectable daughter, the purveyor of caustic one-liners with Crystal. Shirin doesn’t really fit in anywhere because she’s not comfortable in her own skin.

A recent addition to Lena Dunham’s stable of Girls, Akhavan is a confident performer and while Appropriate Behaviour owes more than a little to Annie Hall, Hell, there’s worse films to be inspired by and despite being narcissistic, selfish and infuriating, the deadpan Shirin’s a joy to spend time with whether she’s inspiring her class of 5-year-olds to make a film about farting zombies, mocking a pretentious hipster date (“What’s up with your passive disinterest in everything? What happened at Wesleyan that did this to you?”) or just trying to buy a bra from an overly politically strident lingerie saleswoman and her sexual escapades have a car crash, raw truth to them, particularly the scene where a drunken threesome becomes an enthusiastic twosome leading to a bruised male ego and an early night, that makes you want to watch through your fingers.

Sweet, organic and naturalistic, Appropriate Behaviour may play like a drunken one night stand between Kissing Jessica Stein and Go Fish but it also announces a wry new voice in Desiree Akhavan.

Movie Review: Appropriate Behaviour
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