She’s Gotta Have It (1986)

With funding for movie projects being drastically polarized between dirt cheap indies & international blockbuster behemoths, many directors who used to thrive as mid-budget risk-takers have been driven to television & streaming platforms to finance their works. Even names as big as David Lynch, Martin Scorsese, and *shudder* Woody Allen have had to recoil to outlets like Showtime, Netflix, and Amazon to secure proper funding for their midbudget creative projects. Spike Lee has now joined their ranks, with an upcoming Netflix series adapting his debut feature, She’s Gotta Have It, to a streaming television format. In some ways, the basic idea of adapting this film to television makes total sense; She’s Gotta Have It is already episodically structured & relaxed in its candid, direct-to-the-camera discussions of youth & sexuality in ways that feel ripe for televised storytelling. In other ways, though, the news is a little bit of a bummer, mostly in what it means for the current status of Big Name directors who used to be the gods of indie cinema and the vibrancy of the independent filmmaking boom She’s Gotta Have It helped instigate.

She’s Gotta Have It is essentially a sex-positive hangout film. Our POV character is Nola Darling, a young Brooklynite who openly & honestly maintains three simultaneous sexual partnerships. Despite each partner’s urging for her to go monogamous, she refuses to apologize for or back down from her sexual autonomy. She introduces herself & her plight to the audience in a series of Bergman-esque, direct-to-the-camera monologues, as do her three opposing beaus: an uptight business prick, a well-meaning but toxically jealous romantic, and an immature goof (played by Spike Lee himself). There isn’t much plot outside the tension of this premise, which is amplified by scenarios like all four players sitting down for a shared Thanksgiving meal, one of her beaus demanding she see a psychiatrist for sex addiction, an act of consensual rough sex that darkly transgresses into rape, etc. Mostly, we just sympathize with Nola as she struggles to remain an independent, antonymous person despite all of the outside pressure in her life, which even comes from her female best friend (who also has the hots for her) & an endless parade of male strangers who deliver corny pickup lines in a photo shoot void. It actually sounds more like the plot of a TV show than a feature film when you consider it in that context, but as a D.I.Y. debut from a young, scrappy filmmaker it does work surprisingly well as a one-off feature.

A lot of She’s Gotta Have It is understandably rough around the edges. The unprofessional acting is charmingly scrappy, but also awkward & misshapen. There’s a music fantasy sequence that could be transcendent & lovely, but feels a little corny & flat instead. The movie desperately wants to have an open, progressive mind about sex, but often falls prey to the same toxic masculinity it’s critiquing, especially in the way it handles the aftermath of a sexual assault. These stray quibbles do little to poison the overall mood, though, if not only because the just-getting-started Spike Lee displays so much giddy excitement for the material. For all of its awkward missteps as a debut feature, She’s Gotta Have It just feels incredibly cool. It conveys a 90s Attitude about casual sex years before pop acts like TLC & George Michael would define what that even means. Its stark, black & white cinematography & slideshow photographs frame Brooklyn as a vital, artistic neighborhood where black culture is thriving as a natural echo of the Harlem Renaissance (decades before Brooklyn was a hot commodity). As many young filmmakers do, Lee throws as many of his personal passions & influences as he can at the screen: hip-hop, jazz, The Wizard of Oz, Malcolm X,  Zora Neale Hurston, etc. Individual moments may falter within that aesthetic but it’s such an infectiously rich framework for this film’s snapshots of youthful sexuality & black masculinity in 1980s, big city America. Lee pays special attention to the craft of his personal brand within this cool aesthetic too, already introducing the film as A Spike Lee Joint & a 40 Acres and a Mule production, as if that meant anything to an audience who never heard of him before.

I’m not sure that She’s Gotta Have It is going to be able to retain that cool cultural cachet & artistic vibrancy as a Netflix series. However, a television show should easily be able to stay true to the spirit of its source material without much trouble. I’d much rather that Spike Lee have the opportunity to continue to make weird, outlier projects like Chi-Raq & Da Sweet Blood of Jesus than have to return to early career nostalgia for online “content,” but at least he’s chosen to adapt a project that’s already primed for a TV format. The only real difference is that if he casts himself in a role this time, he’ll have to play the uptight business prick instead of the youthful court jester. In so many ways, it’s not 1986 anymore.

-Brandon Ledet

Beach Rats (2017)

When I was first saw trailers for the Best Picture Winner™ Moonlight last year, I was a little worried that the film was going to be yet another tragically queer coming of age story where a young, closeted protagonist struggles to be their true selves in an unforgiving world determined to propel them to an inevitably violent end. There’s certainly a real world validity to that narrative, but after decades of nearly every major instance of queer representation onscreen following that exact pattern, it’s becoming depressingly limiting to what queer cinema can accomplish as an artform. Thankfully, Moonlight sidestepped most of the Queer Tragedy pitfalls that dull many of its genre peers to deliver something much more transcendently tender & delicately beautiful. The film Beach Rats, which was developed simultaneously at an artist’s retreat with Moonlight by writer-director Eliza Hittman, was much less nimble. Beach Rats is a hyper-specific, wonderfully realized character study about a young queer man navigating the ultra macho beach bro culture that dominates his Brooklyn-based peer group. Its visual language, particularly in its focus on the movement & positioning of bodies, is impressively, subliminally effective. Unfortunately, the film is also stubbornly stuck in an Indie 90s mindset in its estimation of a queer cinema narrative, dimming its idiosyncratic delights in visually detailed culture-gazing to amount to something unnecessarily familiar.

British newcomer Harris Dickinson stars as the confused Brooklynite Frankie (much like how Australian actor Danielle Macdonald recently disappeared into a Jersey Girl persona in Patti Cake$). Pocketing the oxycotin prescribed to his cancer-ridden father, struggling to relate to his grieving mother & sister, and doing his best not to stand out among the Jersey Shore bros that populate his Brooklyn neighborhood, Frankie is unsure how to integrate his sexual interest in the (much) older men he flirts with online into his traditionally macho public persona. He attempts to maintain a romantic relationship with a girl he meets on the boardwalk and claims to the men he begins to hook up with, “I don’t really know what I like,” but his sexual intetests never seem to be in question. It’s clear to the audience (and likely to Frankie) what genuinely turns him on. Excuses why he can’t emotionally or sexually commit to the young woman who’s obviously into him range from having snorted too many pills, lack of condom access, and anxiety over his father’s health, but he seems to have no problem in getting revved up while cruising strange, older men in online chatrooms & on public beaches. As the pressure of maintaining his gym rat beach bro persona while pursuing these anonymous same sex hookups mounts, the movie barrels toward an inevitably dour conclusion that thankfully doesn’t reach for the horrifically violent tragedies typical to its ilk, but still feels overly familiar all the same.

As old hat as Beach Rats feels as a queer cinema narrative, the lived-in imagery of the world it captures feels both believably real & oddly beautiful. The amusement park & nightclub settings these beach bros invade when they’re not shirtlessly staring at the water are near-indistinguishable as neon-lit, electronica-soaked playgrounds, drawing an interesting thread in their continued adolescence even as they search for cheap, drug-fueled highs. The physical rituals of marijuana, handball, and masculine greetings are carefully detailed, especially in the fleeting moments when bodies are socially allowed to touch. While this is far from the explicit territory covered in Stranger by the Lake, Hittman’s eye for this physical communication is carried over to the mostly wordless hookups between queer men, with special attention paid to the strength in the subjects’ muscular hands & buttocks. In an erotic moment, the camera is drawn to the nearest crotch; when the tone turns violent, it lingers on the idle knuckles of potential abusers. This attention to physical detail is never as potent as when Frankie is posing for selfies while working out in his bedroom mirror, baseball cap carefully placed to obscure his face. The way the smartphone flash coldly reflects off greasy thumbprints on the glass is oddly beautiful as Frankie admires & advertises his own body. You can tell Hittman strived to capture a real world setting & culture in this imagery and her attention to its physical detail is what makes Beach Rats feel at all special or worthwhile.

Sometimes, devotion to real world detail is a detriment for the film’s purpose. The dedication to hiring non-professional actors to flesh out its cast feels authentic, but also a little flat. Beach Rats is entirely empathetic to the ultra macho gym bro culture it captures so well onscreen, without a trace of irony in its depiction, but it is a little difficult to suppress laughter while watching Frankie sad-vape or play sad-handball in the rain, as true to life as those images may be. However, that objective approach works well enough while keeping a knowing distance from acknowledging the correlation between Frankie’s thirst for older men & his father’s absence or the vulnerability of identifying as queer in a culture where, “When two girls make out it’s hot; when two guys make out it’s gay.” It’s monstrously unfair to compare Beach Rats & Moonlight solely due to the professional proximity of their creators & their respective depictions of beachside, same sex hookups, but Barry Jenkins’s successes really do exemplify where Hittman missteps. If Beach Rats shared Moonlight‘s narrative instinct in knowing where to pull away from real world tragedy to explore more rarely seen modes of queer representation, it could have been a modern masterwork. As is, it functions just fine as a culturally specific character study with an intense focus on the physicality of its subjects’ social rituals, from the blatantly erotic to the purely fraternal. It’s totally recommendable for those virtues alone, even if it falls short of the transcendent experience it could have been.

-Brandon Ledet

The Swampflix Guide to the Oscars, 2016


Including short films, there are 57 movies nominated for the 2016 Oscars. We here at Swampflix have covered less than half of the films nominated (so far!), but we’re still happy to see so many movies we enjoyed listed among the nominees. The Academy rarely gets these things right (last year’s Birdman Best Picture win comes to mind in that regard), but as a list this isn’t too shabby in terms of representing what 2015 had to offer to cinema. Listed below are the 19 Oscar-Nominated films from 2015 that we reviewed for the site, ranked from best to . . . least-best (*cough* Fifty Shades *cough*) based on our star ratings. With each entry we’ve listed a blurb, a link to our corresponding review, and a mention of the awards the films were nominated for.


1) Ex Machina, nominated for Best Original Screenplay, Best Visual Effects

“There’s something about Ex Machina’s straight-forward, no nonsense approach to sci-fi storytelling that struck a real chord in me. It’s not likely to win over folks who are looking to be surprised by every single development in its plot, but for those willing to enjoy the movie on its own stripped-down terms there’s a lot of intense visual rewards & interesting thematic explorations of, among other things, masculine romantic possessiveness that can be deeply satisfying.”


2) Mad Max: Fury Road, nominated for Best Picture, Best Director (George Miller), Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Production Design, Best Costume Design, Best Makeup and Hairstyling, Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing, Best Visual Effects

“In a time where a lot of movies, such as Zombeavers & WolfCop, intentionally aim for a cult film aesthetic, it’s refreshing when something as authentically bizarre as Fury Road comes along and earns its rabid, isolated fan base naturally. Although the movie is less than a month old, it’s already gathered a cult following so strong that I doubt that there’s any praise I can throw at it that hasn’t already been bested elsewhere. I loved the film. I thought it was fantastic, wonderfully distinct, up there with The Road Warrior, The Witches of Eastwick, and Pig in the City as one of the best things Miller has ever released onto the world. I still feel like that’s merely faint praise when compared to some of the more hyperbolic reactions out there.”


3) Star Wars, Episode VII: The Force Awakens, nominated for Best Film Editing, Best Original Score, Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing, Best Visual Effects

“The overall feeling I got while watching The Force Awakens is “What more could you ask for?” Abrams has successfully walked the Star Wars tightrope & delivered something sure to please both newcomers & skeptics and, more importantly, something that’s deliriously fun to watch when divorced from the burden of expectation.”


4) Straight Outta Compton, nominated for Best Original Screenplay

Straight Outta Compton is not a particularly great example of a historical document, but damn if it didn’t achieve an incredible Cinematic Aesthetic in every scene, somehow managing to squeeze out a great biopic with exactly zero deviations from the format (unlike more experimental films like Love & Mercy). The cinematography, provided by longtime Aronofsky collaborator Matthew Libatique, confidently supported the film’s surface pleasures (including an onslaught of still-great songs & pandering nostalgia) to the point where any & all faults were essentially irrelevant.”


5) Anomalisa, nominated for Best Animated Feature

Anomalisa is a great film that draws you into its headspace with compelling imagery. While the plot may not be as much of a technical masterpiece as its cinematography, its potentially played-out story is sufficiently fleshed out (again, no pun intended) that it will likely remain culturally relevant long after the genre of paint-by-numbers privileged-white-guy-versus-ennui has receded back into the ether from which it came. If not a masterpiece, then the film is definitively a cinematic experience that demands to be seen.”


6) Creed, nominated for Best Supporting Actor (Sylvester Stallone)

“The pugilist protagonist (played by an all-grown-up The Wire vet Michael B. Jordan) of Creed‘s narrative may go through the motions of successes & failures the audience sees coming from miles away, but the movie is visceral enough in its brutal in-the-ring action & tender enough in its out-the-ring romance & familial strife that only the most jaded of audiences are likely to get through its runtime without once pumping a fist or shedding a tear before the end credits.”


7) Carol, nominated for Best Actress (Cate Blanchett), Best Supporting Actress (Rooney Mara), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Original Score, Best Costume Design

Carol is a handsome, but muted drama about homosexual desire in a harsh environment where it can’t be expressed openly. The subtle glances & body language that make the film work as an epic romance are very delicate, sometimes barely perceptible. In fact, if you had no idea what the film’s about going in, it’s possible it’d take you a good 20min or so to piece it together. That kind of quiet grace is in no way detrimental to the film’s quality as a work of art. It’s just that the critical hype surrounding the picture puts an unnecessary amount of pressure of what should be experienced as a collection of small, deeply intimate moments shared between two star-crossed lovers.”


8) Inside Out, nominated for Best Original Screenplay, Best Animated Feature

“The way Inside Out visualizes abstract thoughts like memories, angst, imagination, acceptance, and abstract thought itself is incredibly intricate & well considered. Its central message of the importance of sadness in well-rounded emotional growth is not only admirable, but downright necessary for kids to experience. Even if I downright hated the film’s visual aesthetic (I didn’t; it was just okay), I’d still have to concede that its intent & its world-building were top notch in the context of children’s media.”


9) The Hateful Eight, nominated for Best Supporting Actress (Jennifer Jason Leigh), Best Cinematography, Best Original Score

“At one point in The Hateful Eight, Samuel L. Jackson’s balding, ex-military bounty hunter says, ‘Not so fast. Let’s slow it down. Let’s slow it way down.’ That seems to be the film’s M.O. in general. Tarantino is, of course, known to luxuriate in his own dialogue, but there is something particularly bare bones & talkative about The Hateful Eight. It’d say it’s his most patient & relaxed work yet, one that uses the Western format as a springboard for relying on limited locations & old-fashioned storytelling to propel the plot toward a blood-soaked finale.”


10) Joy, nominated for Best Actress (Jennifer Lawrence)

“Expectation might be to blame for what turned a lot of audiences off from Joy. Based on the advertising, I know a lot of folks expected an organized crime flick about a mob wife, not the deranged biopic about the woman who invented the Miracle Mop that was delivered. Even more so, I believe that audiences expected a lighthearted drama from the guy who made Silver Linings Playbook. Instead, Joy finds Russell exploring the same weirdo impulses that lead him to making I ♥ Huckabees, an absurdist comedy that might be the very definition of “not for everyone”.”


11) Sicario, nominated for Best Cinematography, Best Original Score, Best Sound Editing

“Much like how the recent Johnny Depp vehicle Black Mass gets by purely on the strength of its acting, Sicario might be a mostly predictable film in terms of narrative, but it creates such a violent, foreboding atmosphere that some scenes make you want to step out in the lobby for a breath of fresh air (or to puke, as the cops who discovered the early scenes’ in-the-wall corpses couldn’t help doing).”

12) Steve Jobs, nominated for Best Actor (Michael Fassbender), Supporting Actress (Kate Winslet)

“Between Sorkin & Fassbender’s work here, the myth of Steve Jobs is most certainly an arresting contrast between genius & emotional sadism. He’s a true to form Sorkin protagonist who’s better judged by his work than his persona. I’m not sure I left the film knowing any more about the real Steve Jobs than I did going in, but I’m also not sure that matters in terms of the film’s failure or success.”


13) Room, nominated for Best Picture, Best Director (Lenny Abrahamson), Best Actress (Brie Larson), Best Adapted Screenplay

Room is not all broken spirits & grim yearnings. The film can at times be quite imaginative & uplifting, thanks to young Jack’s warped sense of reality & Jacob Tremblay’s wonderful performance. Room‘s strongest asset is how it adopts a child POV the way films like The Adventures of Baron Mucnchausen, The Fall, and Beasts of the Southern Wild have in the past. Because Jack has only known life inside Room (which he refers to as a proper noun, like a god or a planet), he has a fascinatingly unique/warped perception of how life works & how the universe is structured.”


14) Amy, nominated for Best Documentary (Feature)

“By giving so much attention to a person who obviously did not want it, Winehouse’s unwitting fans made a market out of her gradual death. Again, it’s very similar to what slowly killed Kurt Cobain as well & I’m sure there are to be more examples in the future. A lot of what makes Amy interesting as a documentary is not necessarily the details of Winehouse’s personal life that it turns into a fairly straight-forward narrative, but rather the way it subtly makes you feel like a murderer for wanting those details in the first place.”


15) The Revenant, nominated for Best Picture, Best Director (Alejandro G. Iñárritu), Best Actor (Leonardo DiCaprio), Best Supporting Actor (Tom Hardy), Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Production Design, Best Costume Design, Best Makeup and Hairstyling, Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing, Best Visual Effects

“At times the film itself feels like DiCaprio’s broken protagonist, crawling & gurgling blood for days on end under the weight of an over-achieving runtime. Shave a good 40 minutes of The Revenant by tightening a few scenes & losing a shot here or there (as precious as Lubezki makes each image) & you might have a masterful man vs. nature (both human & otherwise) revenge pic. As is, there’s an overbearing sense of self-importance that sours the whole ordeal.”


16) The Martian, nominated for Best Picture, Best Actor (Matt Damon), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Production Design, Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing, Best Visual Effects

“Despite facing almost certain death in The Martian’s first act, Watney logically explains the details of exactly how/why he’s fucked as well as the practical day-to-day details other films would usually skip over, such as the bathroom situation in a Martian space lab. Speaking of the scatological, there’s a surprising amount of poop in this film. You could even say that poop saves the day, which is certainly more interesting than whatever control room shenanigans solve the conflict in Apollo 13 or other similar fare.”


17) Shaun the Sheep, nominated for Best Animated Feature

“As always, Aardman delivers fantastic stop-motion work here, but although their films are consistently entertaining, there’s something particularly special about Shaun the Sheep that makes it feel like their best feature at least since 2005’s Curse of the Were-Rabbit. Because the movie is largely a non-verbal affair, its success relies entirely on visual comedy that feels like a callback to the silent film era & it’s incredible just how much mileage it squeezes out of each individual gag.”

18) Brooklyn, nominated for Best Picture, Best Actress (Saoirse Ronan), Best Adapted Screenplay

“Outside Saoirse Ronan’s effective lead performance, I mostly found Brooklyn entertaining as a visual treat. Its costume & set design are wonderful, particularly in the detail of Eilis’ wardrobe – beach wear, summer dresses, cocktail attire, etc. That’s probably far from the kind of distinction the Brooklyn‘s looking for in terms of accolades, but there’s far worse things a film can be than a traditional, well-dressed romance.”


19) Fifty Shades of Grey, nominated for Best Original Song (“Earned It,” performed by The Weeknd)

“The best-selling erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey recently made its long-awaited debut on the silver screen and, as a fan of the book series, I was very curious to see how this film could possibly be tame enough for movie theaters. What could have been one of the most iconic movies of the year turned out to be a total snoozefest. Literally. People in my theater were sleeping so hard they were snoring.”

-The Swampflix Crew

Brooklyn (2015)

three star

When I first heard of Brooklyn‘s young-Irish-immigrant-tries-to-make-it-in-NYC premise I expected a Christ in Concrete or The Jungle type narrative set decades before in a time where the Irish & other immigrant communities were worked to death building NYC’s massive infrastructure & quickly discarded once the job was done. There’s a little bit of that history visible in Brooklyn‘s 1950’s setting, particularly in the film’s second-generation Irish-American communities & in the old men left homeless after their construction work dried up. Brooklyn is an entirely different kind of immigrant-story costume drama, though. Its protagonist, Eilis, has a relatively easy journey to the United States, with a remarkably large network of support helping her assimilate into a new land. After a prison-conditions, sea-sick ship ride across the ocean & a nervous encounter at customs, Eilis’ journey is less of a history of immigrant struggle in the New World & more of a traditional coming of age drama & chest-heaving romance.

The conflicts in Brooklyn are less life-threatening than they are emotionally troubling. Eilis struggles with severing family ties in her big move, petty jealousies among her boardinghouse mates, neighborhood gossip, the possibility of lifelong poverty, Catholic guilt, the pressures of rapid dating cycles (mentions of “I love you”s & children are almost instantaneous) and, of course, culture shock. The concerns are far from the grim trials & tribulations I had assumed she’d go through based on the film’s premise & from past films like last year’s The Immigrant. Besides a prudish shopkeeper & an overactive teenage libido, there isn’t much danger in Eilis’ life at all. She loses intimacy with the family & community she left behind in Ireland & they try to suck her back into their world, but for the most part her conflict is internal. Her love for a little James Franco-type Italian weirdo & her transition into a confident, autonomous woman are what drives the narrative, with nearly every other conflict falling into place seemingly without effort.

Saoirse Ronan is an incredibly gifted actor, a world class emoter, and she does as much as she can with Eilis’ torn-between-two-worlds inner-conflict, but it’s difficult to say if the low-stakes narrative she’s afforded is worthy of the quality of her performance. A couple other gifted, familiar faces, including Mad Men‘s Jessica Paré and Frank & Ex Machina‘s Domhnall Gleeson, check in for limited impact, all dressed up with nowhere special to go. The best chance Brooklyn has for finding a longterm audience is in fans of costume dramas & traditional romance plots built on yearning & the threatened development of love triangles. Outside Saoirse Ronan’s effective lead performance, I mostly found the film entertaining as a visual treat. Its costume & set design are wonderful, particularly in the detail of Eilis’ wardrobe – beach wear, summer dresses, cocktail attire, etc. That’s probably far from the kind of distinction the Brooklyn‘s looking for in terms of accolades, but there’s far worse things a film can be than a traditional, well-dressed romance.

-Brandon Ledet

Appropriate Behavior (2015)



It’s difficult to describe Appropriate Behavior without using titles like Broad City & Obvious Child as reference points, but those comparisons truly do the film a disservice, as it’s much more emotionally satisfying than either of those titles (both of which I like very much). True, Appropriate Behavior is yet another raunchy, sex-obsessed comedy-drama centered on a New York City woman-child struggling to figure her shit out, but there’s something uniquely direct & honest about its approach to this aesthetic that distinguishes it from its peers. Its authenticity might have a lot to do with the overall strength of the writer/director/actress Desiree Akhavan, who delivers the material as if she’s lived it before, but what’s really arresting is the crippling, all-too-common sadness that anchors the story. The details of the protagonist’s Shirin’s lifestyle & personality may be specific, but her heartache is universal & familiar.

Shirin is a young, bisexual Brooklynite party girl with a journalism degree & Persian heritage. Not everyone is going to relate to certain aspects of her sex life, such as safe-words, strap-ons, group play and hiding her sexuality from her Iranian-born parents.  However, the film’s central romantic conflict is an about as universal as they come. Appropriate Behavior details the depressing, gradual detangling of two people exiting a long term relationship. The film thankfully doesn’t dwell solely on the couple’s post break-up gloom, but instead adopts a flashback structure that allows it to show the former couple in better times, like in a flirtatious exchange when the first meet where Shirin says, “I find your anger incredibly sexy. I hate so many things too.” When the broken relationship Shirin’s mourning is first detailed it looks too toxic to be worth the heartache. The flashbacks reveal that it was at one time something playful, something worth saving. It allows the film to run through the entire cycle of a romantic tryst from first meeting to fucking to fighting to eventual dissolution.

Although the universal relatability of this cycle is what makes the film affecting, it’s the specificity of Shirin’s world that makes it special. The film’s Brooklyn setting provides a lot of room for lampooning of ludicrous personalities like social justice comedians, Kickstarter gurus, pothead businessmen, and absurdly pretentious performance artists. Shirin’s open, playful sexuality is an invitation into a world of group sex, kink play, and drag queens. Her Persian heritage is a window into both the culture’s familial intimacy & rituals as well as its malignant homophobia. At the center of this Venn diagram is a very relatable Shirin. She calls Brooklyn hipsters out on their nonsense, asking  “What is up with your placid disinterest in everything?” She laughs in the faces of people who take their kink play seriously and finds a way to reconcile her sexuality with her family in a somewhat disheartening “don’t ask, don’t tell” type of equilibrium.  A lot of Shirin’s life goals amount to “a good time”, which is more than understandable for a woman in her twenties.

It’s incredible how much Shirin’s zest for fun shines through when Appropriate Behavior finds her in such a dark time. It’s a familiar balance to anyone who’s experienced true heartbreak: trying to party away the pain like it doesn’t matter, but the superficial hedonism always feeling empty. She pretends like she doesn’t care, but she continuously ends up alone & hurt after the high. No matter your relation to the specifics of Shirin’s background & lifestyle, it’s easy to see yourself in her sadness when she curls up in a ball and says, “I’m going to lie here and forget what it feels like to be loved. Could you please turn off the light?” It’s a sadness that feels like it’s never going to fade, but it always does . . . eventually. Shirin can’t move past it until she gets wrapped up in her own project, a distraction that finally allows her to let go of the past. The thing that saves her? An elaborate fart joke. That’s the exact kind of clash between emotional devastation & goofball irreverence that makes Desiree Akhavan’s debut such a strong, relatable film, even for those worlds apart from her protagonist’s exact circumstances.

-Brandon Ledet