Enjoy Appropriate Behaviour, Desiree Akhavan’s endearingly frank, bittersweet self-portrait of life as a bi-sexual Iranian-American Brooklynite.
Rewatching Appropriate Behaviour reminded me how rarely we see scrappy, imperfect – ie real – women on screen. And how refreshing it is to see them when one is, or knows, imperfect women (ie all of us!). Let alone bisexual women, who get little exposure in films, and a non-white bisexual woman at that.
Akhavan herself plays Shirin, an American-Iranian bisexual woman in her 20s, who is not yet out to her parents. At the start of the film she is just breaking up from her girlfriend and the film flits around its timeline in the same messy way that its protagonist’s mind is processing complicated emotions. Shirin is trying to deal with the end of a relationship, looking for love, looking for sex, processing her jealousy when her ex starts dating again, wondering where she fits in (can she count as a ‘real lesbian’ if she wants to date men too?) and, ultimately, really really wanting to get married to fit in with her parents’ (and, deep down, her own) expectations. While wrestling with that reality.
Appropriate Behaviour was made in just 18 days, on a low budget, and that does show – it is rough and ready. But it feels very real and immediate and, if you go in with the right expectations, is a thoroughly enjoyable watch with plenty of humour. In fact, Akhavan notes that the humour chimed more effectively with British audiences than with American (she has lived in both countries).
And plenty of sex! There is a wonderful threesome scene which, as Akhavan discussed in a lockdown Q&A, is the favourite scene in her films. It succinctly and humorously, but also sexily, runs through the emotions of realisation what’s on offer, excitement, desire and, sadly, disappointment. We’ve all been there!
Akhavan says she choreographs sex scenes meticulously, and works with the actors so they know what their character is feeling emotionally during that sex scene, because she wants it to feel real – as with so many queer commentators, she is sick of straight men filming lesbian sex from, as she puts it ‘a dick point of view’. However, she also concedes that anyone can make anything – she isn’t trying to make politically correct points – but stories should be told with authenticity and a moral compass.
In fact, whether she is making or watching films, Akhavan says there can be any story but it must be told differently and authentically. I think we would all say ‘Amen’ to that.