Appropriate Behavior (2014)

Directed by Desiree Akhavan
Running time 1h 26m
Core concepts this week

bisexual representation

compulsory monogamy

compulsory monosexuality

commodity bisexuality

View on Amazon Prime

Film background

Appropriate Behavior was the directorial debut of Desiree Akhavan, who wrote, directed, and starred in the film. She went on to direct the 2018 film The Miseducation of Cameron Post, based on the novel of the same name by Emily Danforth. Akhavan wrote Appropriate Behavior for her graduate thesis at New York University. While there are elements of Shirin’s character that mirror some of her experiences, such as her Iranian-American background and her bisexuality, she has stated that the film is not autobiographical.

Plot summary

Appropriate Behavior takes place in Brooklyn, NY, and follows Shirin (Desiree Akhavan), as she processes a recent break-up with her ex-girlfriend, Maxine (Rebecca Henderson). The film has many flashbacks that examine the trajectory of Shirin and Maxine’s relationship. The film begins with Shirin moving out of Maxine’s apartment and commiserrating with her friend Crystal (Halley Feiffer), who offers to help her get a job, which she ends up accepting. The job turns out to be not what Shirin expected; she was told it was a film production course for adolescents, but it turns out to be a program for five-year olds. Shirin hopes to get Maxine back by appearing in the places Maxine spends time, but her prospects appear limited. She moves into a new apartment and faces the criticism of her Iranian parents, who cannot understand her decision to move, since she told them that Maxine was her roommate. Shirin attempts to start dating again, and has several awkward dating experiences, but ultimately ends up missing Maxine more. As she recalls the connection she and Maxine shared in the early part of their relationship, she also remembers their challenges; particularly their conflict over Shirin’s sense that she could not come out to her parents. Shirin recalls their break-up, in which Maxine tells her, among other things, that she need not come out to her parents because her bisexuality is likely “just a phase.” In the present moment, Shirin meets up with Maxine at a party and is horrified to discover that Maxine is dating Tibet, her co-worker in the documentary film program. Shirin comes out to her mother, and while her mother does not accept her statement, Shirin tells Crystal she plans to bring it up again soon. In the final scene, Shirin spots Maxine on a subway platform, and the two wave to each other.

Content warnings

Appropriate Behavior contains brief nudity, two sex scenes, sexual humor, and marijuana use.

Materials for this week

  • Lesson plans [Word doc]
  • Screening quiz [Word doc]
  • Secondary texts:
    • Day 1: Music Video: Katy Perry, “I Kissed a Girl” (Watch in class)
    • Day 2: Benson, Chloe. “Film Review: Appropriate Behavior.Journal of Bisexuality Vol. 17, no. 2, 2017, pp. 251-256. [pdf]
    • Day 3: San Filippo, Maria. “The Politics of Fluidity: Representing Bisexuality in 21st Century Screen Media” in The Routledge Companion to Media, Sex, and Sexuality, edited by Clarissa Smith and Feona Attwood with Brian McNair, Routledge, 2018, pp. 70-79. [pdf]

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