Sundance 2022

Am I OK? review – queer coming-of-ager is earnest but undaring

Tig Notaro and Stephanie Allynne helm a well-intentioned but surface-level drama, starring Dakota Johnson and Sonoya Mizuno

Lying in bed with her best friend, Lucy (Dakota Johnson) punctuates a long sigh: “I should’ve figured this out.” She’s a little – well, a lot – drunk and has finally put into words a feeling that has long ravaged her internally: she’s attracted to women. Jane (Sonoya Mizuno), the best friend in question, soothingly assures her “there’s no time to figuring it out.”

In Am I OK?, the two are just like sisters, glued to the hip, but the relationship has a clear alpha. Jane is outspoken to an extent that veers into the impolite, a highly-successful go-getter in a long-term relationship with a boyfriend who shows little interest in questioning her whims. Lucy is the sheer opposite, a far too malleable woman seemingly unable to speak up. Reluctant to pursue her life’s dream of becoming an artist, she works as a receptionist at a wellbeing centre. Relationship-wise, the introvert swerves from any attention, figuratively and literally, clumsily dodging all candidates with the tact of a 13-year-old.

Lucy’s reluctance, it turns out, has nothing to do with the men she meets but all to do with them being men. When Jane announces she is taking a promotion and moving to London for work, the booze flows and the exec confesses she once made out with a girl. Jane’s secret opened the door for Lucy to share her own and, from that alcohol-soaked moment forwards, the friends embark on a journey to explore Lucy’s sexuality.

It is refreshing to see a queer coming-of-age story concerning a 32-year-old woman figuring out her place in the world and within herself. Yet Am I OK? is far too comfortable with simply putting the Big Questions into the atmosphere. Instead of exploring them with any nuance, they float aimlessly through the film, never properly rummaged through.

Married directorial duo Tig Notaro and Stephanie Allynne openly referred to the film as somewhat semi-autobiographical. Perhaps this personal connection to the story restricted its potential to be properly inquisitive, to lean into the awkwardness, the ugliness and the messiness of it all. While the story does eventually dip its toe into heartbreak and discomfort, it remains snugly sat on a ledge, never quite confident enough to take the full plunge.

An earnest but undaring endeavour, Am I OK? squanders the quality of its central performances, dedicating little time to dig beyond the surface to properly shape either the characters or the plot. For a story centred around self-reflection, there is little to be had here and, by the time we wave goodbye to Jane and Lucy, the film has fittingly answered its titular question, never becoming anything more than just OK.

Am I OK? was screened as part of the Sundance Film Festival 2021. A UK release date is yet to be announced.

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