In one of the opening scenes of "Appropriate Behavior," the new film from Desiree Akhavan, the protagonist, Shirin (Akhavan) throws out a box full of memorabilia from a failed relationship. After dropping the cardboard container into the dumpster, she spots something that her ex-girlfriend "didn't feel comfortable keeping," and decides to take it back at the last second. After a few moments of contemplation, she pulls out a strap-on dildo, carrying it out in the open as she continues to walk along the sidewalk in broad daylight.
It's a hilariously poignant moment that perfectly sets the tone for the rest of the picture: A coming-of-age film centered on one woman's determination to find her place in the world after a painful break-up. Not everything comes together perfectly, and the film can feel episodically messy at times, but then again, so does life.
In addition to writing and directing her feature-film debut, Akhavan shines as Shirin, who, while dealing with her most recent heartbreak, is still struggling to come to terms with her bisexuality, especially since she continues to hide it from her loving, but very conservative, parents, who are of Iranian descent.
The film flashes back and forth in time, depicting how Shirin falls in and out of love with her former lover, Maxine (Rebecca Henderson), as well as how this relationship becomes an internal struggle for Shirin, who's torn between staying loyally devoted to her family's customs and creating her own independent path to discover her identity.
Perfectly balancing light moments of comedy amongst Shirin's raw, achingly authentic struggles to find herself in a world where stereotypes reign supreme, "Appropriate Behavior" is a refreshingly honest look at growing up from a feminist perspective; a film that explores how ethnicity and sexuality are a vital part of one's personality and the importance of embracing them during the confusing, sometimes devastating process of growing up.