With a screenplay by Lauren Pomerantz (SNL, The Ellen DeGeneres Show), wife and wife co-directors Tig Notaro and Stephanie Allynne refashion the romcom by placing a platonic female friendship at its centre. Now both in their early thirties, Lucy (Dakota Johnson) and Jane (Sonoya Mizuno) have been best friends since high school. It’s become comfortable and familiar, but also predictable. They sit in the same booth seats at the Los Angeles diner they regularly meet up at, with Jane mocking Lucy for always ordering the same items from the menu. (Veggie burger, sweet potato fries, and a black iced coffee, in case you were wondering.) Their routine lives are abruptly interrupted when Jane is called into her boss Stuart’s (Sean Hayes) office and offered a promotion which would mean her moving to London; the city she left for LA with her family when she was 16. That night over cocktails, the news doesn’t go down well with Lucy, who ends up drunk and tearful.
Another major shift in their relationship occurs when Lucy opens up to Jane about the realization that she might be queer. She’s frustrated with herself for only starting to face it at the age of 32, while Jane is shocked that her friend has been holding back from telling her. Whereas most comedies would speed up Lucy’s journey, Am I OK? allows her uncertainty to linger as she’s questioning who she is and what she wants to do about it. Committed to changing her life (at one point we see her reading Chani Nicholas’ You Were Born for This: Astrology for Radical Self-Acceptance), embracing her sexuality doesn’t happen overnight and the film allows her the time for a gradual discovery. Although it never digs too deep, I enjoyed the film’s approach to coming out as an internal, personal journey of acceptance.
Jane wants things to happen faster though and is eager to take Lucy to lesbian bars, get her on the apps, going on dates, and exploring vaginas; determinedly declaring at one point: “I’d be scared to touch someone else’s vagina, but I’m not leaving this country till you do!” In fact, in one scene there’s so much vagina banter between Lucy and Jane that the movie’s tagline could be The Vagina Dialogues.
As the film progresses, it transpires that Lucy has been holding herself back in other areas of her life too. She’s an artist, but has put down her paint brushes and is working as a receptionist for a spa where she spends her days texting and completing ‘How Gay Are You?’ online quizzes. It’s at the spa where Lucy meets massage therapist Brittany (a wonderful Kiersey Clemons). The chemistry between the two is on fire, but is Brittany just being really friendly or majorly flirting with Lucy? One of the pleasures of the film is trying to work this out along with Lucy as she continuously updates Jane with text messages about the signals she’s picking up on from Brittany. There are a lot of texting sequences in the film, often enriched by showing what each character drafts before finally sending a message, allowing us to see what goes unsaid.
With her enticing, magnetic presence, Dakota Johnson elevates the film, bringing a natural warmth to the role, while her own quirky sense of humour is a good match for the material. She has an easy on screen rapport with Sonoya Mizuno and together they create a friendship we can believe in while also question the healthiness of at times. There are some great supporting turns too. Molly Gordon as Jane’s work colleague, and Lucy’s nemesis, Kat, brings an enjoyable spark to a purposefully grating character, Odessa A’zion makes an impact as eccentric yoga instructor Sky, while Sean Hayes’s Stuart is the only one who thinks his dad jokes are funny (like saying London is “across the lake” rather than “across the pond”). Then there’s a brief but memorable appearance from Tig Notaro as Sheila, a hippie guru running a hammock retreat.
Pomerantz’s dialogue has a nice rhythm to it and the screenplay is peppered with some amusingly odd details, like Lucy being scared of the way that Salt-N-Pepa whisper on their track Push It. One of my favourite moments in the movie is when Jane and her boyfriend Danny (a charismatic Jermaine Fowler) are in the midst of an argument at a restaurant and their waiter awkwardly approaches with a lit birthday cupcake which he quickly leaves on the table saying, “Have a great celebration”, then backs away.
Although it’s rarely laugh out loud funny, there’s an appealingly gentle quality to the film’s humour which is never at anyone’s expense. This is a fun, heartwarming tale of queer awakening and an ode to female friendship that’s feel-good without being treacly.
By James Kleinmann
Am I OK? had its world premiere at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival as is one of our LGBTQ+ highlights of the festival.