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Appropriate Behavior
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by Jay Seaver

"Amusing but slight, as is likely appropriate."
3 stars

Movies like "Appropriate Behavior" are good checks for figuring out just to what degree you are becoming a grumpy old person. Do you find the main character whiny and irritating from the start? Do you get over it? Certainly, the filmmakers have a fair amount of say in this, especially in terms of overcoming those issues and becoming reasonably entertaining, as this one manages.

It follows Shirin (Desiree Akhavan), who is just breaking up with girlfriend Maxine (Rebecca Henderson) as things get started, although a fair amount of time will be spent looking at that relationship from start to finish. Shirin has not told her parents (Anh Duong & Hooman Majd) that she's bisexual, and she's not exactly putting her M.A. in journalism to good use, either. Her friend Crystal (Halley Feiffer) does get her a line on a job, though, although teaching an after-school movie-making class to five-year-olds is probably not her dream career.

Desiree Akhavan writes and directs in addition to playing Shirin, and it often seems like one of those cases where the filmmaker has taken "write what you know" to heart even though they don't have the age or experience of doing anything but studying film and making film/TV/web videos. So there's a lot of chatting, bonding over what people dislike, and general obliviousness that takes a while to come across as self-aware; self-centered characters in a relationship (or just out of it) that doesn't have enough warmth or scope to matter to an audience.

At least, that's how it is initially, and while the relationship between Shirin and Maxine seems misbegotten enough from the start that Shirin's stated desperation to get Maxine back is a drag, there are moments that are worth trying to connect with some sort of story. Mostly the funny ones - Akhavan eventually settles into a groove where her looks at young Brooklynites are knowingly absurd and leverage that eccentricity for enjoyably odd jokes - but also the ones where Shirin is starting to figure things out about herself. They don't quite make the more wantonly superficial moments better in retrospect, but they work on their own terms.

That's in large part due to Akhavan herself; Akhavan-the-filmmaker has a pretty good handle on what Akhavan-the-actress is good at, while the latter knows how a line sounded in the former's head, and she establishes a good deadpan rhythm. Rebecca Henderson sometimes has trouble reconciling that Maxine is more sensible/less flighty than Desiree with how the pair are drawn together. There are fun folks throughout the cast, whether Halley Feiffer as a loyal friend, Scott Adsit as a weird boss, or Anh Duong, Hooman Majd, and Arian Moayed as Shirin's family, who I could do with seeing a lot more of - the parents are far from conservative stereotypes and the sparring with the brother seems believably mercurial.

I was never a particular fan of the "young people who take their good fortune for granted" genre even when I was one of them, so "Appropriate Behavior" grated on me for longer than it might others. It managed to reach a point where it wan't doing so naturally enough to not call attention to itself, though, which is not exactly common among such movies, and certainly indicates that Akhavan will eventually be a unique voice sooner rather than later.

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originally posted: 02/06/16 15:35:47
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Sundance Film Festival For more in the 2014 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Nantucket Film Festival For more in the 2014 Nantucket Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 London Film Festival For more in the 2014 London Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Hawaii International Film Festival For more in the 2014 Hawaii International Film Festival series, click here.

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  16-Jan-2015 (NR)
  DVD: 28-Apr-2015

  06-Mar-2015 (15)

  N/A (MA)

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