Remember the name Desiree Akhavan. You’re going to be hearing it a lot in the future.
Like the HBO show, the movie follows a 20-something New Yorker adrift, fumbling her way through social interactions and breakups, family get-togethers and job interviews. But in this case, Akhavan’s Shirin is bisexual and Iranian, which adds another compelling layer to the narrative. Shirin is very close to her family — her teasing interactions with her parents and brother are some of the movie’s funniest highlights — but she remains in the closet, even giving her parents absurd explanations for why she and her live-in girlfriend share a bed.
“Appropriate Behavior” begins with a breakup. Shirin rides the subway looking morose, and the movie intercuts the character’s painful road to acceptance with flashbacks to the highs and lows of the relationship, always giving us a little more information about why Shirin and Maxine (Rebecca Henderson) were never really meant to be.
The movie has a low-budget and haphazard feel, much the same way Dunham’s “Tiny Furniture” did, and it seems poised to become a similar cult classic for young urbanites. Viewers in that demographic might find themselves nodding in agreement with Shirin’s underwhelming OkCupid dates and less-than-ideal living arrangements (after the breakup, she moves into a group house with a couple of eccentric artists).
Shirin is relentlessly self-effacing. When someone tells her she could be a model, she says, “Yeah, a before model for Accutane.” But Akhavan has great comic timing and a wonderful screen presence that, much like Dunham’s, is not at all self-conscious. In that same vein, Akhavan doesn’t shy from stripping down or putting herself into scenarios, sexual and otherwise, that will make some viewers squirm. (A scene involving a threesome comes to mind.)
But pushing the envelope is partly the point. Comedy today is less about punch lines and pratfalls and more about eliciting that laugh-gasp hybrid. And those jokes come constantly in “Appropriate Behavior.”
On paper, the movie seems like it might have only niche appeal. But this lesbian breakup comedy about a Persian woman with a serious case of arrested development will speak to a broad audience, specifically the one that’s glued to HBO every Sunday night. And that should be more than enough to launch Akhavan’s career.
★ ★ ★
Unrated. At West End Cinema. Contains strong language, nudity, drug use and sex. 90 minutes.