It’s easy to see why this first feature from director Desiree Akhavan has been compared to the groundbreaking HBO series Girls. It’s set in Brooklyn, focuses on a middle-class 20-something woman trying to find her footing, is full of wry wit and nuanced observations, and the female director is also the writer and the lead.

The major difference, though, lies in Akhavan’s Iranian heritage, which adds another layer to an already winning formula and explores how modern freedoms often clash with ancient traditions.

We meet Persian-American Shirin (Akhavan) after a devastating break-up with her girlfriend Maxine (Rebecca Henderson). She begins to dissect what went wrong using friend Crystal (Halley Feiffer) as a sounding board. Homeless because of the break-up and newly unemployed, she moves in with a pair of pompous artists and through Crystal’s friend Ken (30 Rock’s Scott Adsit) gets a job teaching an after-school filmmaking program to five-year-olds.

As the film progresses, it addresses the back story of the relationship in non-linear fashion, painting a clear picture of the reasons for the break-up. Although her parents are sophisticated, cultured and otherwise modern, Shirin is yet to officially come out to them, despite the perceptible blatancy of her sexuality (for example, living in a one-bedroom apartment with Maxine). This leaves Maxine, now estranged from her family as a result of her sexuality, frustrated and doubting Shirin’s place in the gay community.

Although criticised by some as covering much the same ground as Girls, the incorporation of a cultural narrative is a fresh and significant addition. And while character exploration may be a little on the shallow side, this a nonetheless funny, entertaining and unique film experience and makes writer/director/actor Akhavan a talent to watch.

4/5 stars

Appropriate Behavior is showing at Sydney Film Festival on June 6 and 8.

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