Appropriate Behaviour

Cast: Desiree Akhavan, Scott Adsit, Rebecca Henderson, Halley Feiffer, Anh Duong, Hooman Majd, Arian Moayed, Aimee Mullins

Director: Desiree Akhavan

Writer: Desiree Akhavan

Ever since the release of her debut film writer/director/star Desiree Akhavan has often been compared by critics to Lena Dunham, the star and showrunner of HBO’s Girls (in which, interestingly, Akhavan has appeared), and it’s easy to understand why. Both of them have masterminded semi-autobiographical projects that have been praised for their honesty, explicitness and humour. They both tell stories about their everyday problems brought about by their insecurities and how they struggle to find any sort of direction or identity in life. They both tell tales about self-discovery as both protagonists attempt to discover who they are emotionally, creatively and sexually. Much like Lena Dunham, Desiree Akhavan possesses a singular mind with a unique outlook of life. Appropriate Behaviour is a story that only she could have told because it is her own story and it is told from her own distinctive perspective.

The story is that of Shirin (Desiree Akhavan) whose life starts falling apart following her break-up with her girlfriend Maxine (Rebecca Henderson). She is forced to leave her apartment and move into a smaller place. To make ends meet she gets a job teaching filmmaking to a class of six-year-olds that she can’t control. She is constantly berated by her Iranian parents (Anh Duong and Hooman Majd) who, either clueless or insensitive about her sexuality, pester her about her personal life and when it is that she intends to finally settle down with a man. The pressure they place on her becomes all the more overbearing as she is expected to live up to the standard set by her perfect brother (Arian Moayed) with his perfect job, his perfect fiancé, and his perfect life. As Shirin struggles to try and rebuild her life the film depicts flashbacks of her relationship with Maxine, showing how they first fell in love and how they eventually grew apart.

The biggest and most difficult struggle that Shirin faces is that she doesn’t know who she is or where she fits in. She is bisexual but is unable to come out to her parents. She is ethnically Persian but feels no connection to her cultural or ancestral heritage. She wants acceptance but refuses to conform to the externally ordained standards that she is expected to meet. She wants to be successful but doesn’t have any hopes or ambitions that she cares enough about. She wants to be happy but doesn’t know how. Pained by the departure of her lover, Shirin embarks on a self-destructive path as she indulges herself in sexual escapades. At moments when she is by herself, she reflects on her relationship with Maxine and tries to pinpoint where it all went wrong. Perhaps Shirin hopes that, by finding the answer to that question, she will be able to retrieve the one part of her life that she actually loved and cared about and that everything will then be alright. However this film is not a romantic comedy and Shirin’s problems are not the kind that can be solved in the space of a two-hour film.

Desiree Akhavan makes an electrifying debut with Appropriate Behaviour. The film’s screenplay is smart, funny and unapologetically honest. Akhavan is both self-secure and confident enough that she is never afraid to show herself at her most vulnerable or her most uncomfortable. She invites the audience to watch Shirin in her most private, intimate moments in which she exposes herself, escapes herself, and, in some cases, embarrasses herself. These are the moments in which the audience is reminded of just how human this character is. One particularly memorable moment is the awkward threesome in which Shirin joins a sexually adventurous couple to indulge in their appetites only for the experience to prove unfulfilling when Shirin shows more interest in the wife than in the husband, much to his displeasure. Such moments prove humourous in how downright awkward and uncomfortable they are.

I enjoyed this film, but I can understand why some people would not. It is clearly a personal film that explores deeply intimate moments and feelings and some viewers might be put off by how far it goes. Others are (in some cases, justifiably) fed up with stories that portray and pander to the problems of privileged, educated people who can’t seem to just get over themselves. Although I personally disagree in this instance, some people have denounced this film as being shallow, superficial and self-indulgent. They find the main character to be unlikeable and her journey to be uninteresting. To me, however, this is a film of profound honesty and authenticity with a deeply flawed but relatable protagonist and a smart, shameless script. At times I did find Shirin’s inability to overcome her insecurities and vices despite her increasing self-awareness to be tiring, but it is still overall an incredibly strong first feature. I look forward to seeing what Akhavan does next.



Big Hero 6

Cast: (voiced by) Ryan Potter, Scott Adsit, Daniel Henney, T. J. Miller, Jamie Chung, Damon Wayans, Jr., Génesis Rodríguez, Maya Rudolph, Alan Tudyk, James Cromwell

Directors: Don Hall, Chris Williams

Writers: Jordan Roberts, Dan Gerson, Robert L. Baird

Nobody does animation like Disney. For nearly a century they’ve made dozens of incredible films and are still going strong. So, with the recent ascent of the superhero genre brought about in large part by the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it seems right that Disney should have a go at making a superhero film since they haven’t really done one before. A combination between Disney and Marvel seems like a guaranteed recipe for success and so I was absolutely looking forward to seeing the result. Ultimately, the result is pretty good. Not bad and not great, but pretty good. It has all the elements that it needs to be a good film: the story is pretty good, the animation is pretty good, the characters are pretty good and the action is pretty good. As a matter of fact I’m kind of stumped over what else I should say about this film because “pretty good” more or less sums it up for me. However I’ll try to go into more detail.

The protagonist, a 13-year-old robotics genius called Hiro (see what they did there?), lives in the futuristic San Fransokyo and spends his nights taking part in back-alley robot fights. His older brother Tadashi, who often has to bail Hiro out of whatever trouble he’s gotten himself into, sees Hiro for the child prodigy that he is with limitless potential and feels that all he needs is a bit of direction. Tadashi takes Hiro to the robotics lab at the university where he and his fellow students are working on groundbreaking inventions and discoveries. Hiro is amazed by what he sees and is inspired to enter a competition that will allow him entry to this university. He comes up with an invention that wows the crowd and the judges, winning the competition. However Hiro’s glee is short-lived when a fire breaks out in the building, claiming Tadashi’s life.

Having lost his older brother, who was both a father figure and role model to him, Hiro falls into a depressive state and secludes himself from his family and friends. A few weeks later he accidently activates one of his brother’s inventions, and thus we are introduced to Baymax. Baymax is an inflatable robot designed as a healthcare attendant. His one and only desire is to help people and he views Hiro as a patient in need of his care. His complacency and robotic cluelessness make him an endearing character, and the bond he forms with Hiro (which kind of reminded me of John Connor’s bond with the T800) in an effort to help him overcome his grief proves to be the highlight of the film. When a masked villain emerges onto the scene along with Hiro’s invention, which was supposed to have perished in the fire, Hiro calls upon his friends and on Baymax to form a team of superheroes.

The team consists of Hiro, Baymax (who has been updated with a martial-arts program and an armour-plated suit), and the four students from the university who worked with Tadashi. The other four members of the team are pretty basic and unimaginative. There’s the lazy stoner; the ditzy, hyperactive geek; the cool one who chews gum; and the big, strong one who’s actually a softie. There’s nothing wrong with them per se, they’re not bad nor are they unlikeable, it’s just that they aren’t exactly new. They are characters that we’ve all seen in other films before this one. In fact, the same thing can be said about everything else in this film.

Big Hero 6 is a very safe film. There’s nothing actually wrong with it, it’s only vice is that it doesn’t offer us anything that we haven’t seen before. The characters are safe, the humour is safe, and the story is safe. It is a fairly enjoyable film but it is also fairly predictable. It’s not as if the filmmakers were lazy or uninspired, it’s clear that a lot of effort and creativity went into this film. It’s just that they never took any risks with this film and never dared to venture further than the films that had come before.

There is however one aspect worthy of praise and that is the relationship between Hiro and Baymax. Baymax is quite a loveable character because of how complacent he is. He exists only to help others in need and has no other wish or desire except to fulfil his purpose. There is nothing he wants more than to help Hiro through the tragedy that he has suffered and his function is not complete until Hiro is satisfied with his service. It is both touching and enjoyable to see how dedicated Baymax is to Hiro and how much pleasure and satisfaction he gets from helping him. It is no wonder that Hiro is eventually won over by his companion. Overall it makes for an enjoyable, if otherwise unremarkable, film.