Sundance 2022 Premiere:
“Am I Ok?”
Screenwriter Lauren Pomerantz and co-directors Tig Notaro and Stephanie Allynne’s “Am I Ok?” is an honest work about two best friends in their thirties, both of whom are having life changing moments.
Lucy (Dakota Johnson) and Jane (Sonoya Mizuno) have been best friends for years. They know one another inside and out. They can predict each other’s every beat and emotion. The two keep no secrets. However, Lucy is indeed keeping something from her friend, the fact that she is a lesbian.
Pomerantz’s script and Notaro and Allynne’s direction prove to be fully in tune with Lucy’s uncertainty. The women who created the film have been through similar situations in their own lives. Through Lucy, the film finds its humanity. Fear of not being accepted as oneself is common in the LGBTQ communities. While this film pulses with a humorous disposition, it takes the subject of acceptance seriously.
The friend’s lives are shaken up by Jane’s announcement that she will be accepting a promotion and moving to London. After this shocking reveal (and the fact that Jane will not leave her alone about getting a boyfriend), Lucy comes clean about her sexuality although she struggles with coming to terms with it at 32. As she tells her bestie, “I should have figured this out by now.”
It is a sweet scene, as the two sit one Lucy’s bed and drink as she comes clean. The immediate acceptance speaks to their strong friendship. There is no judgement and not too many questions.
At the spa where Lucy works, there may just be a romantic and sexual possibility in the form of Brit (a radiant Kiersey Clemons). Brit is obviously interested in Lucy. Eventually the two have a couple of hangout nights together and have a connection. Could this be the person Lucy needs to come out of her shell?
It is in Brit where the screenplay is the most playful and (in a way) the character can be seen as a cautionary tale. Brit seems to be a free spirit and her intentions are obvious but life and human beings are far from perfect. Clemons seduces with her smile and soft but confident demeanor. As she did in her wonderful performance in 2018’s “Hearts Beat Loud”, the actress seems effortless in her ability to fully inhabit a character. As Brit, Clemons stands out amongst her equally strong costars.
The film finds Lucy and Jane in holding patterns. This is a big reason why Jane takes the job in England, a move that is throwing Lucy into a deeper tailspin of self doubt. For her, this is too much change at once.
After a night out at a club, the two best friends have a big argument and say a lot of things that cut deep, severing their closeness. Confused, upset, and distraught, Jane accelerates her move to the U.K. and this crack in their friendship is another blow to Lucy’s already shaky neurosis regarding her life. To come out at the age of 32 and navigate a newfound love life is a weight she cannot handle alone.
What the two friends fail to realize is how their individual neuroses are what fueled their argument. They have not grown apart, they are just a bit overwhelmed.
Pomerantz created a fantastic screenplay based on moments with her own best friend and her own later-life struggle to be true to her sexuality. The relationship between Lucy and Jane is truthful. To the actresses’ credit, the friendship feels completely organic, although in the post-film Q&A, Johnson assured that almost every beat is in the text.
Both Dakota Johnson and Sonoya Mizuno are perfect, playing off one another beautifully, but it is Johnson who reveals another side to her acting style. It seems as if the actress has only recently taken on roles that will challenge her.
2018’s “Suspiria” remake hinted at the depth Johnson had yet to explore on screen. Films such as 2019’s “Our Friend” and last year’s “The Lost Daughter” allowed her to really dive deep into well-crafted characters.
At this year’s Sundance, Johnson has definitely arrived, proving herself a great actress in this film (and in her other 2022 Sundance entry, “Cha Cha Real Smooth”).
Lucy is Johnson’s most layered character to date and her performance is completely intoxicating.
Directors Notaro and Allynne give the film dimensions, embracing their Los Angeles locations and the ambience of the city without drawing attention to it. Where New York set independent films breathe the pulse of that city, as does this film. These are L.A. folks through and through.
The filmmakers find a good balance in the numerous character crises. While Lucy struggles with being her true self, Jane is navigating the move and how it might affect her relationship with her longtime boyfriend (a very funny Jermaine Fowler). This and both Jane and Lucy are starting to feel the upcoming distance that will be between them.
Every character arc is given time to breathe naturally. Nothing is dictated by screenplay conventions.
This film is smart. It has a humorous slant but takes nothing lightly (save for a very funny moment with Tig Notaro as a New Age leader of a “hammock retreat”). Pomerantz’s screenplay has something profound to say about keeping a friendship honest while not being true to oneself.
With its two perfectly executed lead performances and natural humor, “Am I Okay?” is one of the warmest and most charming films of this year’s festival.
Am I OK?
Screenplay by Lauren Pomerantz
Directed by Tig Notaro & Stephanie Allynne
Starring Dakota Johnson, Sonoya Mizuno, Kiersey Clemons, Jermaine Fowler
Not Yet Rated, 86 Minutes, Gloria Sanchez Productions, Level Forward