Am I OK?, 2022.
Directed by Stephanie Allynne and Tig Notaro.
Starring Dakota Johnson, Sonoya Mizuno, Jermaine Fowler, Kiersey Clemons, Molly Gordon, and Sean Hayes.
Lucy and Jane have been best friends their entire lives. Only when Lucy embarks on a personal journey, will she face a test of her friendship and her sense of self, on a path she may not be entirely ready to take.
The feature directing debut of married couple Tig Notaro and Stephanie Allynne may catch some by surprise, namely those expecting beloved comic Notaro to deliver more of a cutting deep-dive into the particulars of later-in-life sexual discovery. And so while Am I OK? paints with a disappointingly broad brush, it’s still a worthwhile charmer of a character piece.
Lucy (Dakota Johnson) and Jane (Sonoya Mizuno) are inseparable best pals who know each other inside and out, though their well-regimented dynamic is thrown for a loop when Jane announces she’s moving from Los Angeles to London for a job promotion. Before long, Lucy makes a drunken confession on a night out, that she’s come to realise she likes women, and at the ripe age of 32 struggles to reconcile this life change.
Coming-of-age movies are of course a dime a dozen, though ones featuring characters over the age of 30 are certainly less common, especially where the protagonist isn’t a boorish man/woman-child serving as the butt of all the jokes. As such it’s refreshing to see an experience like Lucy’s on the screen, where she feels both shame and confusion at “figuring it out” when so many of her peers seem to have their identities long since locked down.
Notaro and Allynne’s film shrewdly argues that evolution is an ongoing, lifelong process, and you’re not obligated to crystalise who you are by the time you’re 25 or 30. It’s a strong message and one wrought with compassion and empathy, as Lucy wrestles with the crushing anxiety of stepping outside her comfort zone, whether for dating women or just ordering something different at breakfast for once.
The script, penned by Lauren Pomerantz, also keenly explores the complexity of evolving co-dependent friendships, namely the paradox of wanting the best for a bestie so long as it doesn’t upset the regimented status quo.
In tone and aesthetic, it’s a touch underwhelming that Am I OK? feels so much like a mid-brow sitcom given the potential for it to be so much more; the frothy, light-as-air chit-chat and generally defanged approach to its subject prevents it from ever digging too deep. There are predictable, contrived, arbitrary dramatic spanners thrown in the works in act three, and a final crowd-pleasing gotcha that might be a little too cute for its own good.
Yet the filmmakers’ better instincts largely prevail, even if this lacks the depth and granularity to make the most of its bountiful resources. This is a down-the-line character drama with direction that verges on the anonymous, but one enlivened by the chemistry of its focal cast members. Dakota Johnson is terrific as a repressed young (yes, young) woman anguishing over not knowing who she is, juggling the dual fear of discovering her sexuality and her friend leaving the country.
Sonoya Mizuno, who proved so striking a presence in Alex Garland’s projects Ex Machina and Devs, confirms herself a natural comedic actress here, her thornier personality ensuring plenty of irreverent banter opposite Johnson’s Lucy. And then there’s Kiersey Clemons, who is effortlessly alluring as Brit, Lucy’s flirty colleague who may or may not also be gay.
Throw in supporting roles for Molly Gordon as Jane’s annoying-ass colleague Kat and Jermaine Fowler as Jane’s voice-of-reason boyfriend Danny, and the cast certainly doesn’t want for rising talent. Also be sure to keep an eye out for Notaro’s hilarious brief cameo – though, honestly, you probably can’t miss it.
Compassion emanates from every pore of this competent dramedy that certainly has its heart in the right place. However as a debut for Notaro and Allynne it feels a little too light on its feet for its own good, and the fact they didn’t also write it seems a bit of a missed opportunity. As a result this is solid if not particularly memorable work that’ll likely blend into the glut of modestly decent dramedies when it joins the streaming library of whoever in a few months.
If overly sitcom-y in design, Am I OK? benefits from its wholesome message about personal growth as a lifelong process, aided by sharp performances from Dakota Johnson, Sonoya Mizuno, and Kiersey Clemons.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Shaun Munro – Follow me on Twitter for more film rambling.