Saturday, March 21, 2015

BFI Flare 2015: Appropriate Behaviour

Appropriate Behaviour

Shirin (Desiree Akhavan - also Writer/Director) is an outspoken twenty-something Brooklynite trying to please her Persian parents, from whom she is hiding her bisexuality, whilst trying to find meaningful employment after a break-up from her domineering, but likeable, girlfriend Maxine (Rebecca Henderson).  The news of her brother’s betrothal to a prize Iranian bride forces her to reflect on her own romantic decisions as she begins to unsuccessfully date a collection of ill-matched men and women around the city.
There is a biting moment during the break-up scene when Maxine attacks Shirin’s bisexuality stating that ‘knowing you, this is all just a phase’… This line is delivered with the same devastating vitriol as when Brittany Murphy’s Tai declares that Cher as just “A virgin that can’t drive…” in Clueless.  Anyone from my generation knows how iconic that line became and how harshly it hurt the character and this tired accusation from Maxine also felt like a really cruel low blow.  For me that line entirely sums up a key theme in the film, namely that bisexuality is only a temporary stage and that mature sexuality is on one or the other side of the fence.

What feels different with Appropriate Behaviour from other comedies of its kind is that the sex scenes are actually incredibly realistic (and hot).  One scene has Shirin meeting up with a couple in a bar before heading back to their apartment for an eventual threesome.  After Shirin finishes having oral sex with Marie, Marie then begins to do the same to Ted leaving Shirin to awkwardly watch alongside him on the sofa.  Not knowing what to do she leans in and lightly kisses his shoulder just to feel included, which immediately kills the mood for both of them – this tiny action perfectly captures the potential awkwardness of casual sex whilst also being very, very funny.  The bedroom scenes with Maxine also show a subtle depiction of consensual sexual dominance that is infinitely more erotic than anything in Fifty Shades of Grey

Another scene that separates the film from other such similar comedies is a flashback scene where Maxine and Shirin get a delivery of weed and find out that they “are the same kind of stoned person” – again showing that drugs are slowly becoming more and more accepted (to the point of banality) in mainstream American movies.  This kind of trivial realization is what makes couples fall in love, yet again is presented as funny but tender instead of just going for larger, cheap and obvious ‘stoner’ laughs…

Appropriate Behaviour

The socially insecure Iranian-living-in-Brooklyn narrative reminded me a lot of the insecure Canadian-living-in-London plot of recent UK debut MLE from Sarah Warren, both working as romantic homage to a city following in Woody Allen’s footsteps.  In the case of Appropriate Behaviour, Brooklyn serves as kind of melting pot of weirdos (Shirin’s conceptual artist flatmate for one), different ethnicities (the Persian party scene is amazing) and hipsters whilst being both economically intimidating and socially welcoming at the same time.  Much like MLE’s London…

The joy of Akhavan’s film is that it both celebrates and ridicules the nostalgic ‘quirkiness’ and stylistic bombast of the NY hipsters, yet at the same time has a quietly political message of (sometimes bemused) tolerance towards different sexualities and ethnicities.  You might watch for the brilliant jokes, but the message will ultimately resonate for longer…

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