Forget its generic title, its breakup setup, and its indie-standard Brooklyn walk-and-talks: Writer/director Desiree Akhavan's Appropriate Behavior is the freshest comedy of life and love since Obvious Child. Hilarious and heartbroken, Akhavan stars as Shirin, a bisexual Iranian American video artist just bounced from her lover's Gowanus apartment. (Relish the memory of the now-gone Kentile Floors sign.) "How do people meet, agree they like each other, and then keep on liking each other?" she sighs at her new roommate. Then, with amusing politeness: "I'm gonna lie here and try to forget what it felt like to be loved. Can you please turn off the light?"
Shirin's adventures might sound indie-by-numbers: This struggling artist takes on a job teaching film to five-year-olds while trying to find herself, show up her ex, and keep her parents in the dark about her sexuality. But Akhavan is adept at the piercing detail: the jumble of dishes in a sad loft's sink; the meaningless intimacies exchanged between extended relations. Her cast is mostly ace, even when playing caricatures -- the richest is the lingerie shop proprietress (Kelly McAndrew) whose pushy self-help talk comes to sound like truth.
Akhavan herself proves a commanding lead, even as Shirin shrinks from life. Unlike the protagonists of the Noah Baumbach and Woody Allen films this will (and should) be compared to, Shirin doesn't think of herself as the central figure around whom the world turns. Instead, she's suffering through bad hookups and an awkward threesome as she searches for anything that matches her as well as her lover did. This debut shows that Shirin's creator has found that to which she's ideally suited: illuminating lives in film.