Whoever started the narrative that you’ll have yourself figured out by the end of your 20s should be drawn and quartered. Especially as the way in which the world has changed commercially, the expectation that someone will go to school, get a job, buy a house, get married, have kids — you know, the usual rigmarole that gets you “The Perfect Life” — is little more than bullshit wrapped in capitalism. Ask anyone that has student debt and you’ll hear how they were told that going to school was the silver bullet to achieve job success. This nonsense, this expectation of having yourself figured out, has placed an enormous weight on the shoulders of adults that they can barely live up to the imaginary standards when, instead, the truth is that most still don’t know who they are until their 30s or 40s. This is the crux of the Lauren Pomerantz-written (Community) and Stephanie Allynne/Tig Notaro-co-directed romantic comedy Am I OK?, which is less interested in the traditional romantic aspect as it is love between friends. Love of friends and love of self, in a way, go hand-in-hand. You can survive just about any crisis with a measure of both.
Lucy (Dakota Johnson) and Jane (Sonoya Mizuno) have been best friends for years. They’re so close that they know what the other is thinking before they say it out loud. Their friendship is put to the test upon the coincidental revelations that (a) Jane is moving to London for an incredible work opportunity and (b) Lucy admits that she’s gay. With their different life experiences, each one handles this sudden shift very differently, causing a rift that each struggles to overcome.
There are many delightful things about Am I OK? and the biggest/best thing is how low stakes it is. There’s no heist, no aliens, no mystery or conspiracy, just interpersonal relationships whose relevance makes them *feel* end of the world without the pesky doomsday clock. In part due to charming performances from Mizuno and Johnson, we quickly do get swept up in their friendship so that when the conflict arises, we are invested enough to believe in the reconciliation to (hopefully) come. Another feather in the cap of the film is that the conflict isn’t that Lucy comes out, but how Jane “helps” her on this new journey. She does it, unasked as always, and that’s the problem. Much in the same way that Jane becomes annoyed with Lucy that she (Lucy) doesn’t seem to have any kind of happiness for this adventure that she (Jane) is going on. It’s new, it’s scary, and it’s not something that Lucy would ever do. This is their crossroads moment — how each handle life’s changes, not the shifting sexuality. We’ve had plenty of stories where coming out is the central conflict, so having a rom-com that’s about friendship, not sex, is more than refreshing, it’s unique. It also plays into the critical fear that most young audience members possess: not knowing who they are.
There’s this pervasive misconception that once you get *the* job, *the* relationship, *the* whatever, that all of life’s problems will fade away as everything else just clicks. Except that’s not how things work. Not without a screenwriter calling the shots. Some people are lucky enough to know exactly who they are and what they want to do, but, for many of us, it takes more than our 20s to figure it out. In Am I OK?, this issue is raised in the respective journeys of our central characters. One is walking the path of the life presumed, while the other walks the path of the life fractured. Jane seems to have everything she could want, except control; meanwhile, Lucy works at a spa making the schedule instead of focusing on her art. There’s a version of life where each could have exactly what they want if they are brave enough to seek it. Which is easy for me, a casual observer of the film, to say, but not so easy to live as a regular human being. But that’s why stories like this one are so attractive. It’s not that the characters have things figured out, it’s that they don’t, and the way they come to any kind of realization is as natural as they come. Even more than normalizing that someone’s sexuality is not their identity, we need to normalize the fact that people can and should change throughout their lives. Not only that, but it’s ok to not have it all figured out until later in your life. There’s no deadline to figure out who you are, what you like, and who you love until your literal deadline arrives. Until that point, having the courage to explore yourself and the knowledge that not everyone has things figured out is paramount to surviving this life. Heck, that last part is critical.
Themes aside, the direction from Allynne and Notaro is strong, clearly understanding that theirs is a story of characters within scenes and not just showing us them in scenes. You get this in the staging of us seeing Lucy at work for the first time, the all-white upholstery furniture and glass-covered walls making her space seem vast and yet lifeless. The place feels big as Lucy sits down, her head barely visible from her chair. That Lucy wears mostly grey is a nice compliment to the character’s uncertainty, neither a fit for the place she works but not unfit for it either. Later, when showing Lucy at work, Johnson keeps her physically small even as the camerawork enables us to see more of her at her desk by shooting from the back of what we saw the first time. In an adorable sequence later in the film as Lucy hangs out with co-worker Brittany (Kiersey Clemons) having a try-on party, Allynne and Notaro frame the sequence so that we don’t see anything more than we need. It’s not about sexualizing Lucy’s form, but exploring her emotions, which are somewhere between shame, confusion, excitement, joy, and uncertainty. You know, the usual feelings when you don’t know if you’re on a date or not. (Side bar: Clemons is absolutely fantastic here in her small but significant role and, if you’re in the market for other LGBTQ+ positive material, track down her film Hearts Beat Loud. Truly spectacular.)
The direct answer to the title’s question — Am I OK? — is “you will be.” You don’t have to be right now, not in this moment, but you will. And you don’t have to do it alone. This is a film that uplifts and, while it may follow the usual tropes of a rom-com, it does so without the central characters being them toward each other. Instead, it allows both Mizuno and Johnson to go on their own journeys as Jane and Lucy, enabling them to charm us with their performances, having us root for them from start to finish. In the end, Allynne and Notaro’s Am I OK? is wholesome faire that will have you longing for the kind of unjudgmental support that only close friends can offer. Plus a few laughs along the way.
Screening during the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.
For more information, head to the official Am I OK? Sundance film page or the PICTURESTART website.
Final Score: 4 out of 5.
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