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Arts & Life

Akhavan's 'Appropriate Behavior' Defies Categories And Stereotypes

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Here's a new talent to keep an eye on - Desiree Akhavan. She wrote, directed and stars in a new comedy called "Appropriate Behavior." The film's out today in some theaters. Akhavan plays a bisexual Iranian-American struggling to get over an ex-girlfriend and come out to her immigrant parents.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "APPROPRIATE BEHAVIOR")

REBECCA HENDERSON: (As Maxine) They have no idea you're bisexual?

DESIREE AKHAVAN: (As Shirin) They know. I know they know.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As Shirin's father) Why is there only one bed?

AKHAVAN: (As Shirin) It's European. Also, in the movie "Beaches," these two best friends shared a bed, and it was very inexpensive.

GREENE: NPR's Shereen Marisol Meraji from our Code Switch team has more on the film and its star.

SHEREEN MARISOL MERAJI, BYLINE: If you've heard anything about Desiree Akhavan it's probably that she's the Persian Lena Dunham, the creator of the HBO series "Girls." Their comedy draws from personal experiences, some having to do with S, E, X. They're young, and they both live in Brooklyn.

AKHAVAN: I read an article that was really complimentary of the film. But it opened with Desiree Akhavan should have put in her credits a film inspired by Lena Dunham's "Girls." I wrote this script before "Girls" came out. I don't want to crouch down and say that that doesn't piss me off, because it does.

MERAJI: But right after the Dunham comparison comes high praise for Akhavan's unique point of view because she's not just Iranian-American, she's bisexual. Akhavan says she gets it, we all love to compare and categorize. But with each box comes a stereotype.

AKHAVAN: So, like, a Persian film is a film that is like taking your medicine. There's going to be, like, a female circumcision.

MERAJI: And then there's the bisexual label, which many see as synonymous with gay.

AKHAVAN: Very cheesy in camp. And it will only speak to homosexuals, and it'll be preaching to a choir.

MERAJI: And, finally, the Lena Dunham-esque Brooklynite category.

AKHAVAN: Underachiever who's entitled, has everything handed to her on a silver platter and is lazy and infuriating. So I'm very much hoping that this film lives outside of those cliches and that this is a reinterpretation of all of that.

MERAJI: The indie comedy opens with a shot of Akhavan's character, Shirin, forlorn on the subway, thinking back to the day she broke up with her girlfriend Maxine. Flashback to her packing up her things in their apartment, Maxine insisting that she take back a special present Shirin bought for them to share. And then cut to Shirin stomping down a Brooklyn street, their former pleasure toy dangling from her hand, when up comes the film's title - "Appropriate Behavior."

MELISSA SILVERSTEIN: This was a very funny movie. I was laughing out loud, and that does not happen to me a lot. And just, like, really pointed about our culture.

MERAJI: Melissa Silverstein sees a lot of movies, and she's watched "Appropriate Behavior" twice. She runs the Women and Hollywood website and is the artistic director of the Athena Film Festival, showcasing female directors. Silverstein says Akhavan's "Appropriate Behavior" is fresh and totally relatable.

SILVERSTEIN: You know, we've all come of age. We've all tried to figure out our lives. And here is this character, Shirin, and she's just a mess and really trying to figure out how do I fit in into this country where sometimes, you know, I'm not wanted? I'm not accepted in the ways that I should be.

MERAJI: There are awkwardly hilarious sex scenes, touching family scenes and witty observations of hipster culture. "Appropriate Behavior" defies categories, and it's gotten Akhavan noticed by the very person it pisses her off that everyone compares her to. Yep, she's playing a recurring character in this season of Lena Dunham's "Girls."

AKHAVAN: By omission, my character is an Iranian bisexual, but we do not hear anything about her sexuality or ethnicity. So that's an acting choice I made that you can tell in my eyebrows.

MERAJI: And if you're not a "Girls" fan, Akhavan just finished writing a comedy series about a lesbian who discovers she's bisexual. So you can wait for that to come out. Shereen Marisol Meraji, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.