Upcoming Girls cast member Desiree Akhavan writes, directs and stars in Appropriate Behavior, a uniquely frank examination of relationships that alternately conveys their situational hilarity and tender honesty. Following a fraught break-up with her girlfriend Maxine, Shirin (Akhavan) tries to figure out what went wrong, while starting fresh with a new job and apartment. Closeted from her more traditional Iranian-American family, the hapless Shirin is also forced to contend with her brother's recent engagement and generally overachieving ways. A brave new voice in personal independent filmmaking, Akhavan spoke with us about the shifting portrayal of women and coming from an immigrant family.
Can you speak about the narrative structure and your choice to relate Shirin and Maxine's relationship through chronological fragments?
I wanted to make a film about the process of reliving a relationship during the aftermath of it: how each moment can feel new to you when you're replaying the memories in your head and trying to figure out where you went wrong.
I was also interested in testing the audience's perspective on who was "right" or "wrong" as the film progresses and more of the backstory's revealed.
Shirin could be considered a "perpetual adolescent," in line with the protagonists of other female-centric (dark) independent comedies. How were you able to bring a fresh characterization to her as both an actor and director/screenwriter?
Male protagonists have been stuck in a state of "perpetual adolescence" for a very long time – Sideways, Rushmore, The Jerk, any Adam Sandler film you've ever seen. It seems to me like a pretty recent phenomena that female characters have been given the freedom to act like complete assholes and remain the star of the show. I think it's still a pretty fresh perspective no matter what the subject matter. That being said, the very nature of this film's protagonist being bisexual and Iranian changes the game. For the most part, Iranians I see in American films have been either victimized or vilified, so anything outside of that is new territory.
The film explores the grievances of being a child of immigrants in a very relatable way. How is Shirin's failure to meet their expectations distinct from the average generational divide?
As the child of immigrants, I always related much more to friends' parents as opposed to kids my own age. Especially having parents from the Middle East, the rules, traditions and morals were always more antiquated than anything I saw around me.