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From Sundance: 'Am I OK?' is a Delightful Queer Coming-of-Age-ish Dramedy

Dirs. Tig Notaro and Stephanie Allynne — 4 Stars

Dakota Johnson and Sonoya Mizuno star in Tig Notaro and Stephanie Allynne's queer dramedy.
Dakota Johnson and Sonoya Mizuno star in Tig Notaro and Stephanie Allynne's queer dramedy. By Courtesy of Sundance Institute
By Amelia Roth-Dishy, Crimson Staff Writer

Three big queer cheers for “Am I Ok?”, a poignant coming-of-age-ish dramedy — heavier on the comedy than the drama — that knows its wheelhouse, commits to form, and hits all the right beats.

Directed by married duo Tig Notaro and Stephanie Allynne, the film follows two lifetime best friends in their early 30s, Lucy (Dakota Johnson) and Jane (Sonoya Mizuno), who tell each other everything and have long settled into a comfortably codependent L.A. rhythm. Lucy is the receptionist at a spacious oceanside spa that seems to have only one other employee, and she’s never been that interested in dating; Jane enjoys vapid coworkers and a well-stocked company kitchen at her marketing job and lives with her longtime boyfriend Danny (Jermaine Fowler). Their dynamic hits a snag when Jane gets a work promotion that will send her to London and Lucy, sad and drunk from the news in a sequence played with tremendous feeling by Johnson, reveals that she’s gay. Hijinks ensue, and the two seismic changes unearth cracks in their relationship.

The script, written by Lauren Pomerantz and drawn loosely from her own experiences, feels mechanical at times but zips along just fine. The characters are drawn with clear motives and patterns, and when Lucy and Jane start to take jabs at each other, their mutual reads are specific and well-earned. The two leads have good bantering chemistry; Mizuno in particular is a crisp, believable deliverer of even the most unnatural dialogue.

While Johnson can call upon chameleon acting chops when necessary, her famously lime-agnostic “chaotic calm” offscreen energy is deployed to great effect in the film — it’s an energy that works surprisingly well in the evolving rom-com genre, or maybe just the queer ones. (“How To Be Single” fans, show yourselves!) Her gentleness evokes that of a baby bird’s, vindicating Jane’s somewhat patronizing instinct to both protect her best friend and push her out of the nest. But the steely self-actualization underlying that mellow energy ultimately grounds Jane’s own arc of self-discovery, even if Johnson doesn’t quite sell her character’s initial frazzle about the emotional and social consequences of her newly articulated identity.

Scoring Johnson for this role was a coup of casting by Notaro and Allynne. (The two apparently brought Johnson onboard when Notaro performed stand-up at Johnson’s infamous birthday party in Malibu that a certain gay daytime host did not attend.) But scene-stealers galore populate Lucy and Jane’s world. Queer actress Kiersey Clemons, who has carved out a subniche in her burgeoning career for lighthearted WLW stories (“Hearts Beat Loud,” “Easy”), is charming and charismatic in “Am I Ok?” as Brittany, the flirty masseuse who Jane develops a crush on. Molly Gordon, miles away from her grounded queer ex-girlfriend character in last year’s indie darling “Shiva Baby,” is hilariously exaggerated as Jane’s Instagram-obsessed work friend.

The movie is set in a familiarly stylized version of an affluent, star-studded Los Angeles scene. Stephanie Allynne may be best-known at this point for her role on “The L Word: Generation Q,” and from its milieu-establishing opening montage of mostly-white women hanging out in various bars and well-appointed homes, “Am I Ok?” seems to suggest its existence in a kind of “L Word” multiverse. The film hews closely and self-consciously to this version of queer L.A., and it’s hard to argue with the idea of a gay multiverse of any kind. But this narrowness does raise the question of how festivals like Sundance can do more to represent the diverse multiplicity of queer storytelling that is waiting to explode across big and, increasingly, small screens.

In the lead-up to “Am I Ok?”’s premiere, much was made of how refreshing it is to see a woman onscreen who’s 32 and still figuring herself out. The representation of this widely held but underexplored experience is thrilling and important, to be sure. And from a narrative perspective, removing the context for an unavoidable coming-out-to-parents plotline creates breathing room in Lucy’s journey of gay awakening. But it’s also quite satisfying, in the most instinctual sense, to watch a queer-created crowd-pleasing comedy milk laughs from stereotypes about queer women rather than heterosexual coupledom. Driving a Volvo (“Jane, Volvos are the safest car!”), a city’s gay scene all knowing and having dated each other (“You’re gonna be the star of the lesbian community”), the steady creep of black beanies onto Dakota Johnson’s curious head — it’s all there. They’re lazy jokes, the kind that every straight movie gets to make. Mass-market queer humor won’t bring liberation, but it’s fun nonetheless.

“Am I Ok?”, despite its breeziness, also gets some painful stuff just right. “I know it’s fine and no one cares, but I care,” Lucy explains to Jane about her coming out — even with the knowledge that no one in her life will think differently of her for being gay, Lucy’s anxieties about the actualities of disclosure and whether or not her gayness “shows” on her personhood are poignantly rendered. And the fuzzy boundary between platonic and erotic that marks Lucy and Brittany’s connection, and the confusion and hurt it ultimately causes, ring all too true for any queer woman, or really anyone, who’s been in a similar situation.

The movie leaves one major question mark. Hints are dropped that Lucy and Jane have some fuzziness, too — not least the main promotional image. Without giving too much away, this thread feels unresolved or even ignored. Perhaps the seminal comedy about the complexities of queer friendship is yet to come.

—Amelia Roth-Dishy can be reached at amelia.roth-dishy@thecrimson.com and on Twitter @scallionshmear.

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