A strap-on in a box gets thrown into a dumpster… then a few minutes later is hoisted back out. Not your typical film opening, but this isn't your average film. Actor/Director Desiree Akhavan's Appropriate Behavior begins with a break up between main character Shirin (Akhavan) and her girlfriend (Rebecca Henderson). The film moves back and forth between present day and their to-be-failed relationship, from their fateful meeting on New York City steps outside a party to Shirin lying about their relationship to her traditional Persian family.
"The very first script was very different," Akhavan admits as we discussed the film prior to its original dual theatrical and VOD release. She originally planned to take out a loan to self-finance a small film with two actors in two locations over a twelve month period, one scene for each month. After showing the script to her producer, the producer urged her to expand the scope of the narrative and instead allow her to figure out the financing. "Once I started writing all those scenes, she was like write about your family, write about a job, write about your friends, write, write, write. And I did that. And once I did it did not fit the film at all that I'd written." Akhavan turned to films she loved for inspiration, particularly Annie Hall, and went back to the drawing board. "At first it was a straight-to-camera monologue a la Alvy Singer: 'So Maxine and I broke up.' Then it was like alright, I'm not going to do a Woody Allen impression. That's bullshit. Once I decided that I'd open that way, I wrote index cards with all of the scenes for each narrative. I broke it down to the family story of coming out, the relationship story of them, and the work story and best friend story. Then I took the cards and rearranged where each one would go linearly so that we felt like we were moving along throughout each of those narratives and that's how it found its structure."
The film had its worldwide premiere at the Sundance Film Festival before a theatrical release a year later. The script garnered her a nod at the Film Independent Spirit Awards for Best First Screenplay. Moreover than that, it's become a staple film in a growing LGBT film genre and opened to some controversy as Akhavan is an openly bisexual Iranian, where being gay is illegal in her birth country. "There's such little representation of Iranians out there, period. They're victimized or villainized. You are one or the other, very clearly." Her first exposure to Iranian culture was through the film Not Without My Daughter (1991). "Before I had seen that film, it was very silly to me that I was from Iran. It was almost like a joke because I had been raised in the States and born there." While she spoke Farsi and ate traditional food at home, she always felt American. Iran seemed like such a random country until she learned more of its history and culture as she got older. "[It's] really interesting how much you internalize when you come from a country where your PR is so bad," she explained. "That's what's so funny about film because it's so inherently, okay, it's superficial and it's just another entertainment medium but it's so, so powerful in how you view yourself and how you view various cultures. Up until I was 7 and I first went to Iran, my only experiences of it were through media and then the same thing about gays. Up until I came out, my only exposure to anything was through movies and it's just so powerful."
Appropriate Behavior was recently added to HBO's current programming, bringing it to a whole new audience itching for something new as they wait for the next chapter in Westeros. "I'm very excited now that someone in Bumblefuck Nowhere, Arkansas, can download this and watch it and maybe change their fucking IP address so their parents don't find out," she shared. "I saw a lot of gay films where I was like I don't identify like this at all. I must not be queer. It seems really cheesy to me and that's what it is to belong to any minority. You have very few representations of yourself and if you don't fit the one that is most popular then you are just a total outcast." For the record, the film has a 96% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. She may be in the minority but perhaps she's not as much of an outcast after all.