Friday, June 21, 2024

“AM I OK?”

THE STORY – Lucy and Jane are the best of friends. They finish each other’s sentences, predict every detail of each other’s food order, and pretty much know everything about each other. But when Jane is promoted at work and agrees to move to London for her new position, Lucy confesses her deepest, long-held secret: She likes women, she has for a long time, and she’s terrified by this later-in-life realization. Suddenly, their friendship is thrown into chaos as the two choose different routes by which to navigate the unexpected changes in their lives.

THE CAST – Dakota Johnson, Sonoya Mizuno, Jermaine Fowler, Kiersey Clemons, Molly Gordon & Sean Hayes

THE TEAM – Stephanie Allynne & Tig Notaro (Directors) & Lauren Pomerantz (Writer)

THE RUNNING TIME – 86 Minutes


In many ways, Dakota Johnson was the standout star of Sundance 2022. Crowds were already cheering her on after the premiere of Cooper Raiff’s “Cha Cha Real Smooth,” a film in which she not only delivered a stellar supporting turn in but also produced, showcasing her savvy behind the camera as well in front of it. But that wasn’t all the starlet had to offer, as she had Tig Notaro’s directorial debut “Am I OK?” (co-directed with her wife Stephanie Allynne) waiting in the wings too, amassing even more acclaim when it debuted for her tender portrayal of a thirty-something closeted lesbian coming to terms with her sexuality. Now, more than two years later, after its world premiere, “Am I OK?” is finally seeing the light of day on Max, where you can stream it now.

As the initially listless Lucy, Johnson chronicles her character’s embrace of the full extent of what life has to offer with considerable care and compassion, all as she additionally grapples with the fact that she may soon have to bid farewell to her best friend, Jane (“Ex Machina’s” Sonoya Mizuno), who takes a promotion that’ll send her profession overseas. Faced with the absence of her strongest support system at one of the most pivotal points in her life thus far, Lucy has to learn how to reinvent herself at a period when it seems like everyone else her age has it “all figured out.” Through Lauren Pomerantz’s sweet – if familiar – script, “Am I OK?” showcases the fortuity of female friendship and assures audiences that there is no such thing as being “too late” to be you.

Right off the bat, the very best thing about “Am I OK?” is undeniably the jovial Johnson and magnetic Mizuno, who brings a wonderful warmth to not just Lucy and Jane’s relationship but the film as a whole, elevating their characters beyond what the script provides with their radiant repartee and convincing chemistry. Whereas some other couplings in the movie may feel underdeveloped – Jane’s dalliance with her boyfriend Danny (“Coming 2 America’s” Jermaine Fowler), her acquaintanceship with the aggravating Kat (“Theater Camp’s” Molly Gordon) – Lucy and Jane’s friendship has a rock-solid foundation, strengthened not just by the credible conversations Pomerantz writes for the two in her screenplay but by the effervescent energy Johnson and Mizuno bring to every scene they share. It calls to mind the compelling connections shared by Kristen Wiig’s Annie and Maya Rudolph’s Lillian in “Bridesmaids” or Beanie Feldstein’s Molly and Kaitlyn Dever’s Amy in “Booksmart” – that kind of instantly involving female dynamic duo characterized by terrific comic timing and consuming sentiment between the co-stars.

Mizuno is a towering talent who can juggle multiple tones at once (delivering on both the dramatic beats involving her boss or boyfriend and the more amusingly raunchy asides), but if one of our leading ladies takes center stage, it’s undoubtedly Johnson, who turns in another powerhouse performance, assessing Lucy’s (late) coming-of-age with an acute authenticity and sympathetic sincerity. There’s lots for Lucy to be insecure about – coming out of the closet in her 30s, lacking any sort of sexual experience with women whatsoever – but Johnson, despite capably conveying these concerns, never judges Lucy in her portrayal, providing her a space to be messy emotionally and, as a result, more multidimensional. Furthermore, by refusing to reduce Lucy and her problems to a punchline, it makes it much easier for those in this same situation to identify with the role, seeing themselves represented for perhaps the first time and being assured that they are not alone – an assurance almost entirely attributable to Johnson’s delicate depiction.

Outside of Lucy and Jane, though, “Am I OK?” can sometimes feel a tad too “sitcom-y” to justify a cinematic telling of this story (the somewhat episodic nature of the film and its plot – which makes the 86-minute feature feel far longer than it is – also adds to this perception). There doesn’t always seem to be a clear three-act structure in play, and while Lucy’s storyline is more purposefully planned, Jane’s is slightly more scattershot. It is given less attention to its assembly, which results in a somewhat less investment from the audience in response. Whereas Lucy’s experiences are executed with more expression and depth, Jane’s can occasionally feel like an afterthought. This is most apparent by the film’s “finale,” which it somewhat lumbers towards after spinning its wheels before bringing our two leads back together, creating a less-than-definitive denouement to the drama at hand and one that moreso seems like a minor “pause” until more substantial events occur later. Still, despite these occasional storytelling stumbles, “Am I OK?” always soars when Lucy and Jane share the screen, and their attachment alone makes the film worth watching.

It is pretty clear that “Am I OK?” earns much of its meticulous emotional efficiency from the directing duo of Allynne and Notaro, who may not add anything significantly to the style of the endeavor but suffice it with a stirring soulfulness that is impossible to shake. And that’s what “Am I OK?” has going for it overall: being less notable for how it’s made and more notable for what it was made about. We still so rarely see queer stories like these, and it means a lot more coming straight from the source than it would if someone outside of the community contorted it. Throughout it all, Sonoya Mizuno and especially Dakota Johnson root this saga of self-discovery in riveting realism, turning in a pair of poignant performances that amplify the movie’s impact around them and linger long after the credits roll.

THE RECAP

THE GOOD - Sonoya Mizuno and Dakota Johnson turn in a pair of powerfully poignant performances, with Johnson, in particular, portraying a thirty-something closeted lesbian coming to terms with her sexuality with stirring sincerity.

THE BAD - The script's structure can sometimes be a little aimless - especially in the back half - and it seems somewhat episodic, feeling more like the start of a sitcom than a fully-fledged film.

THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - None

THE FINAL SCORE - 6/10

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Zoe Rose Bryant
Zoe Rose Bryant
Writes for AwardsWatch & Loud & Clear Reviews. Omaha based film critic & Awards Season pundit.

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<b>THE GOOD - </b>Sonoya Mizuno and Dakota Johnson turn in a pair of powerfully poignant performances, with Johnson, in particular, portraying a thirty-something closeted lesbian coming to terms with her sexuality with stirring sincerity.<br><br> <b>THE BAD - </b>The script's structure can sometimes be a little aimless - especially in the back half - and it seems somewhat episodic, feeling more like the start of a sitcom than a fully-fledged film.<br><br> <b>THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - </b>None<br><br> <b>THE FINAL SCORE - </b>6/10<br><br>"AM I OK?"