ILLUSTRATION BY MICHAEL SHIREY
BY GARY M. KRAMER | Openly bisexual writer and director Desiree Akhavan has crafted a laugh out loud deadpan comedy with her fabulous feature debut, “Appropriate Behavior.” Brooklynite Shirin (Akhavan), who is not out to her Persian immigrant parents, has just broken up with her girlfriend Maxine (Rebecca Henderson). Underemployed, she takes a job teaching filmmaking to five-year-olds, which is as funny and dreadful as it sounds. As Shirin tries to recover from the breakup, she dates men, women, and even has sex with a couple. But she finds it difficult to emotionally connect with anyone.
Filmmaker Desiree Akhavan explores the hurdles of visibility and connection
Akhavan recently spoke via Skype with Gay City News about her film and being appropriate and otherwise.
GARY M. KRAMER: There are so many films about bisexual Persians in Brooklyn. Why did you make another one?
DESIREE AKHAVAN: I know! I’m a follower. I see a formula that works, and I latch on. [Laughs.]
GMK: Seriously, how did you develop your film and your character, Shirin?
DA: I don’t see myself as Shirin. Her issues weren’t my issues. We are very different. But the themes of the film touch on issues I was dealing with, so that’s how it came about.
GMK: What can you say about your deadpan sense of humor? Is that a coping mechanism for dealing with reality?
DA: Perhaps. I think people’s sense of humor is inherently personal. For me, the way I was raised and dealing with the world around me, it was imitating my brother who is really funny and deadpan. There’s always someone in your family you want to look cool in front of, so I imitated him. Also, life sucks, so I tried to laugh my way through it.
GMK: Shirin says she is good at pretty much only two things: drinking and dancing. What do you like to drink, and what is your favorite dance music?
DA: I don’t think drinking and dancing are my best qualities. The older I get I can’t even handle drinking that much! I like whiskey. As for dancing, I enjoy anything but house music. It’s a mood killer for me. I like a smorgasbord of other kinds of music.
GMK: “Appropriate Behavior” has Shirin hiding her sexuality from her parents. Do you think most children of immigrants from countries like Iran have to be especially careful about coming out?
DA: I think it’s definitely a consequence of being a child of immigrants. It’s different for each person. Some live a double life — one with their Iran family, another with their friends. Personally, I haven’t had that. I’m honest to a fault. It’s more that I’m a terrible liar, and it hurts to make up a façade.
GMK: What I like about your film is that it’s relatable, whatever one’s experience.
DA: I tried to make something that rings true to me and hope that it rings true for others. If it’s honest and specific enough, it can be universal.
Writer and director Desiree Akhavan in the starring role of her “Appropriate Behavior.” | GRAVITAS VENTURES
GMK: Do you think “Appropriate Behavior” will change people’s perceptions of bisexuals?
DA: It depends on who sees it. For a film to make an impact, it is a consequence of that. There is a lack of exposure of those who are willing to tell stories of neither gay or straight or both gay and straight. If I’m holding hands with a girlfriend, I’m visibly a lesbian, but if I’m in a relationship with a man, I’m automatically seen as straight. So it’s about visibility.
You can’t be visibly bisexual, which is what the film is saying. There’s something taboo about that word in general. I think the measuring tool is: Do you have the capacity to be physically intimate with someone of either gender? Some folks can’t handle the baggage of stepping into that ambiguous place.
GMK: Do you often get to visit Iran?
DA: I used to go, but I haven’t been back in a long time. I can’t go back because it would be kind of dangerous now.
GMK: Shirin is quite sexually adventurous in the film — using strap-ons, role-playing with her girlfriend (albeit badly), and sleeping with couples. She seems to pursue every potential sexual situation. Do you think she should learn to love herself first?
DA: Perhaps. I saw it as the minute she got her heart broken, she threw herself into a “choose your own adventure.” The exploits are her trying to process her heartbreak.
GMK: Your film has fart jokes, bad sex, nudity, and other shaming behavior. What is inappropriate?
DA: We are conditioned to be ashamed. When I came out, I realized nothing else can humiliate me. I have said the most taboo thing to my parents, whom I love, so I just don’t give a shit. I felt a real shift in my work after that.
Losing your shame — you dictate for yourself what’s right or wrong, where your morals live, what you think is cool or sexy. I didn’t realize that until then.
APPROPRIATE BEHAVIOR | Directed by Desiree Akhavan | Gravitas Ventures | Opens Jan. 16 | IFC Center, 323 Sixth Ave. at W. Third St. | ifccenter.com | Nitehawk Cinema | 136 Metropolitan Ave. at Berry St. | Williamsburg | nitehawkcinema.com