With the booming Denver housing market and the influx of hipsters struggling to find meaning in a culture built on a bedrock of irony and flippant fashion, visiting Brooklyn -- ground zero for vacuous aesthetes -- is like looking into a crystal ball and seeing the future Queen City of the Plains. Cinema Q, Denver Film Society's annual LGBT film festival, opens tonight with Appropriate Behavior -- a movie that seems ambivalent about whether it wants to embrace or satirize New York's affluent hipsters.
Appropriate Behavior is a classic coming-of-age story, though the protagonist, Shirin (played by director Desiree Akhavan), is not a teenager. In our era of postponed adolescence, this makes sense. What other generations experienced in high school she experiences in young adulthood, in Brooklyn, a gentrified setting cleansed of history, poverty and pollution, all of which have been replaced by trendy style and the performance of substance.
Throughout the film, Shirin tries to figure out what went wrong in her relationship with her ex, Maxine. As she explores the past, she struggles to connect with new lovers through OK Cupid, bars and a political meeting about LGBT prisoners -- a subject the movie winks at, but does not address.
The movie does a lot of political winking, with one-liners about the Occupy movement, a flippant remark about Iran's use of the death penalty in punishing same-sex desire and jabs at well-intentioned activists. Political stakes don't seem to matter to Akhavan; all that matters, within the framework of the film, is Shirin's individual growth -- which is understated, too.
The plot hinges on Shirin's attempts to keep her parents from knowing that she is bisexual. She fears violent retribution. When Shirin has her big coming-out moment and tells her mother she's "a little gay," her mother tells her she is not. But that's it. In a film that sets itself up as a coming-out story and in a scene in which Akhavan could have set off fireworks, the director lights a match instead. It fizzles.
This understated coming-out story is refreshing. There is no Brokeback Mountain and Boys Don't Cry melodrama. Akhavan repeatedly shows the cover of Stone Butch Blues, an iconic and dramatic coming-of-age memoir about life as a butch in a homophobic society. But in the context of this film, LGBT histories of violence are something of the past -- which is politically dishonest, but necessary for the hipster comedy which would be sullied by any direct engagement with social conditions.
In the spirit of the television series Girls and films such as Tiny Furniture, the bittersweet tone of Appropriate Behavior is charming, the occasional gags are funny and the hum of tension does somehow engage the audience. If Cinema Q programmers want viewers to believe that the future of LGBTQ cinema is assimilation, Appropriate Behavior is an appropriate and entertaining opening night film.
Appropriate Behavior screens at 7 p.m. Thursday, July 24 at the SIE FilmCenter. Tickets cost $15 for members and $20 for non-members. For more information about this screening and the other films in Cinema Q, go to denverfilm.org or call 303-595-3456.
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