I really, really enjoyed Appropriate Behavior.
From the very beginning, Desiree Akhavan’s (director, Shirin) filming style came across as unassuming. Her shots hung on to the moments they revealed… The camera didn’t cut when you’d expected it to, and what you were left with were these moments that were altogether real and relatable — and they even became intentionally uncomfortable at certain points: Shirin’s botched date with Sasha, the lawyer from NYU, the scene after Shirin has had sex with the guy from OKCupid, and she’s lying in bed awake, Shirin’s threesome encounter, and even the final scene of the movie as the subway is moving. Particularly in that last scene, we watch Shirin come to terms with herself and her breakup with Maxine (???). I adore this particular style of filming, and it absolutely contributed to my identifying with and appreciation of Appropriate Behavior. There is something so subjective about our experiences; something that is sometimes, in my opinion, lost in verbal and textual translation. This is not to discount literature or story telling or anything of the sort, I swear. But I think in visual mediums such as film or even photography, you get this actual glimpse at what it was like in the moment, how it went down. I can wholly empathize with what Shirin feels after she’s seen Maxine in those last moments on the subway. I don’t know that I could even put words to those feelings, but I understand and relate to them entirely.
Some of the notes that I took early on in the movie concerned the autobiographical nature of the events portrayed. Desiree Akhavan herself is a first generation Iranian American, and she does identify as bisexual. This considered, I feel that a lot of what was represented in Appropriate Behavior were experiences that Akhavan likely did have. However, in an interview I watched (https://youtu.be/3X4P6Q60MzI) of Akhavan on the film, she describes her process of writing Appropriate Behavior as “taking on a life of its own.” She didn’t feel confined to only writing and depicting things that she directly experienced and knew; rather, she allowed the narrative to flesh out on its own, and in the process, it became at least somewhat fictional and most importantly, uninhibited. As I watched Desiree explain this process, I immediately thought of Zami: A New Spelling of My Name and Fun Home. As we read both of these works, we discussed why Lorde and Bechdel might have wanted to present their narratives as “biomythographical” or “tragicomical”.
Nevertheless, there is a lot that is left open-ended and unanswered at the conclusion of Appropriate Behavior. Did Shirin and Maxine eventually get back together? What happened the next time Shirin saw her parents?
Shirin doesn’t seem to fit into any specific group of people. I think this is most apparent at her family parties and at Pride. I’m thinking specifically of that Pride scene in which Shirin makes some offhand comment about befriending the drag queen. Or when Shirin says to Maxine on the steps on New Year’s Eve, “I love dykes.” How do we interpret scenes like this?
I felt in Appropriate Behavior we saw much more of Shirin’s struggle with her breakup than we did of her struggle with coming to terms with her sexual identity. Perhaps this was overlooked due to the fact that it would be a story in and of its own, and in Appropriate Behavior, we are brought up to speed without much (or any) attention drawn to this. Or maybe, much like Molly in Rubyfruit Jungle, perhaps Shirin always just knew. How more or less relatable does this make the film to you?
Finally, do you all think Dr. Wallace’s inclusion of a film on our E314V syllabus goes along with my earlier thought of the subjectivity of the human experience? (and the way film captures this inexpressible subjectivity?)
(I apologize if this interpretation is too meta; these are my 2 a.m. thoughts)