“Appropriate Behavior” is a kind of Iranian American-bisexual “Annie Hall” crossed with an episode or two of HBO’s “Girls.” And, as the feature writing-directing-acting debut of the delightfully deadpan and strikingly pretty Desiree Akhavan, that’s mostly a good thing. One just wishes this boldly funny hipster comedy was a bit more skillfully structured and evenly paced to maximize its many assets.
Akhavan plays Shirin, a wry, not unadventurous Brooklynite who breaks up with her live-in girlfriend, Maxine (Rebecca Henderson). It’s a bitter split and, as we see in a slew of nonlinear flashbacks, their relationship, despite proclamations of love, was often more angsty than joyful. (Oh, for a lobster-wrangling scene!)
Shirin navigates her post-Maxine freedom in a series of offbeat romantic encounters with men, women and even a latex-loving swinger couple. She gets a weird job, via her best pal Crystal’s (Halley Feiffer) stoner-dad friend (Scott Adsit), teaching filmmaking to rambunctious 5-year-olds. The semi-closeted Shirin must also deal with her traditionalist family members, including vigilant parents (Anh Duong, Hooman Majd) and about-to-be-engaged doctor brother (Arian Moayed), all of whom may — or may not — be in the dark about her bisexuality.
Some scenes work better than others — an extended-family party is a gem, a class project screening is a dud — and momentum slows toward the end. But Akhavan’s confidently off-kilter approach to basic human interaction makes for an authentically ironic, adorably wistful, smartly observed ride. As her recent Independent Spirit Award nomination for first screenplay reconfirmed, she’s one to watch.
MPAA rating: None
Running time: 1 hour, 26 minutes.
Playing: Sundance Sunset Cinemas, 8000 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles. Also on VOD.
For the record, Jan. 16, 3 p.m.: A previous version of this review incorrectly stated that the film is playing at Laemmle’s Music Hall 3.