It has taken Hollywood a long time to embrace the full breadth of the queer experience, only recently discovering that LGBTQ people are more than just their sexual identity, that they have rounded, diverse and interesting lives far beyond their coming-out stories. There are so many stories still to be told, stories about characters who are defined by more than their sexual orientation, who have interests and goals that range far beyond who they are attracted to, who can talk in complete sentences about something other than sexual attraction. There was the promise that Tig Notaro and Stephanie Allyne’s feature directorial debut, Am I OK?, premiering at Sundance Film Festival, might be another step forward in queer cinema, as the married lesbian couple could most certainly be counted on to deliver a mainstream comedy that breaks new ground and furthers queer representation in popular culture in a positive and illuminating way. Sadly, the only thing that Am I OK? offers in the pantheon of queer cinema is yet another cookie-cutter, bland and disposable offering that feels disappointingly like one step forward, two steps back.
In Am I OK?, Dakota Johnson plays Lucy, a Los Angeles Millennial who has only recently come to accept the fact that she’s always been attracted to women. When she tells her straight best friend, Jane, played by Sonoya Mizuno, Lucy is self-conscious and scared, but Jane is excited that Lucy has finally figured herself out and promises to help her find a girlfriend. It’s a setup straight out of RomCom 101, but, unfortunately, neither romance nor comedy are forthcoming as the film wastes all of its opening momentum by settling into a dull and cliché-laden path of least resistance, having Lucy pursue a crush on a female coworker that ends in an awkward one-night stand that, surprisingly, takes over half the film to develop and satisfies nothing.
To her credit, Dakota Johnson gives it all she’s got, making Lucy awkwardly charming to the point of a toothache, but there is a curious lack of effort on the part of the script, written by Lauren Pomerantz, to flesh her character out more. While there is no timetable for anyone’s coming out, it would have been a valuable addition to the depth of her character if there could have been some understanding as to why Lucy has struggled so much with her self-acceptance. Although the story mercilessly avoids the obvious trope of having Lucy secretly in love with Jane all these years, it also provides so little of a backstory to Lucy’s character that the only thing that would make sense is if Lucy actually is in love with Jane. You can’t have it both ways.
The exploration of the friendship between Jane and Lucy is similarly frustrating, as their every interaction feels put on and overly adorable, which, wouldn’t be bad, but an inauthenticity comes through when the believability of their bond is sacrificed by a manufactured fight that seems to exist only to push the plot forward. And that’s the biggest problem with this film, the fact that there’s nothing that feels genuine, everything feels like a setup for a joke (which often aren’t funny) or an overly manipulated conflict borne from nothing.
While there is a certain conceit that is acceptable in films like this, where everyone is beautiful and lives outside their means, there is something so over-the-top about this film that makes the fantasy unsustainable. Even the promise of comedy is unfulfilled, as most of the moments that are intended to be funny land with a painful thud, from Molly Gordon’s uninspired Merritt Wever impression to Tig Notaro’s self-serving cameo as a hippie instructor at a hammock sanctuary, it all misses badly.
The only thing that rescues Am I OK? from its weak script and annoyingly Millennial vibe is the performance from Johnson, who is self-effacing and utterly beguiling. But Johnson’s hard work is wasted in this film that struggles to land any comic moments, breaks no new ground, says nothing of substance and forces us to spend time with uninteresting people. Maybe queer cinema has finally entered the mainstream after all.
This review is from the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.
Photo courtesy of the Sundance Institute | James Clark