There’s something of a full circle moment experienced with Am I OK?, Tig Notaro and Stephanie Allynne‘s co-directorial feature debut. The real-life couple, who met on the set of a Sundance selection title (2013’s In A World…), return to the festival as married women detailing their own journey of self-discovery and acceptance with a film that, simple as it ultimately may be, has an honest, authentic point of view.
Surrounding the seemingly unbreakable friendship between 30-somethings Lucy (Dakota Johnson) and Jane (Sonoya Mizuno), Am I OK? effortlessly sets up their dynamic as the type of best friends who are so intricately aware of each other’s quirks, right down to what the other will order for lunch. Despite the solid foundation of which it appears their friendship rests on, strain is briefly hinted at early on when Jane informs Lucy that her company has promoted her to spearhead a new office, a move that will take her from Los Angeles to London.
Lucy does her best to be happy for Jane. And the truth is she is, but deep down she’s terrified that their relationship will suffer because of such distance. The anxiety around Jane’s departure opens up Lucy in a way she wasn’t expecting, finally having to face another deep-seated truth she’s been too afraid to admit: she’s gay.
Jane, ever the supportive friend and wanting Lucy to experience her new-found sexuality with a confidence before she jets for London, unintentionally adds further pressure to Lucy’s situation. At 32-years-old she’s more frustrated with herself that it’s taken this long to face her true sexual orientation, and being an anxious person means any interaction with another woman – especially the seemingly flirty Brittany (Kiersey Clemons), one of her co-workers – is overthought rather than excitedly received.
As the countdown towards London looms closer, a riff between the girls swells. Born from Lucy’s overall anger at Jane leaving, as well as Jane’s friendship with one of her co-workers (Molly Gordon as an exhausting millennial whose phone is eerily permanently attached to her person at all times), and, subsequently, Jane’s frustration with Lucy’s overt insecurities, they explode in a wealth of terse rage that dampens their final weeks together and sets them on their own journeys of re-evaluation.
Though Notaro (who also has a minor role in the film, a retreat “guru” who manages to earn well-placed laughs during a more sombre narrative moment) and Allynne have crafted Am I OK? with a certain general appeal, there’s an intimacy and a specificity to how it looks at female friendship and the journey of self-discovery pertaining to sexual orientation at an older age.
We are so used to the narrative of men or women discovering their sexuality at a younger stage in their life that the safe space Notaro and Allynne have created here is all the more readily embraced. It may be cliché to say as such but it’s never too late to figure out who you are, and Lucy’s journey is one that will resonate with many.
It’s also of immense benefit to the film that such a journey is navigated through the grace that is Dakota Johnson. The actress – truly having a moment at Sundance this year, with this and Cha Cha Real Smooth showcasing her talents – embodies her conflicted character with both a delicacy and a ferociousness. We believe every moment she experiences, and though Notaro and Allynne’s film would have been a treat regardless, Johnson’s presence elevates this simple yet gorgeous comedy to a higher plane of relatability.
FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Am I OK? is screening as part of this year’s Sundance Film Festival, which is being presented virtually between January 20th and 30th, 2022. For more information head to the official Sundance page.