Married couple Tig Notaro and Stephanie Allynne make their directorial debut at Sundance with Am I OK?, a sharply written dramedy on the trials of same sex relationships. Penned by Lauren Pomerantz, it features solid performances from Dakota Johnson and Sonoya Mizuno as best friends. In its handling of the central premise, Am I OK keeps the focus on this central pairing of Lucy and Jane respectively, as the former experiences a series of subtle epiphanies.
In terms of rom-com dynamics it is business as usual, as excursions down to a gay club and awkward first attempts at flirting are handled with humour. From the outset the writing of these two characters is so good that audiences will just go with it, while Johnson and Mizuno make their chemistry look easy. In the main this film also veers away from anything too serious when it comes to conflict, while each of Lucy’s encounters are often rose tinted with minimal drama.
Kiersey Clemons represents the pinnacle of Lucy’s ambitions in the beginning as Brittany, where an overfamiliar hand on the shoulder signals a seemingly deeper interest. Time is also taken to establish the relationship between Lucy and Brittany within this film, while their interactions feel organic rather than stereotypical. Elsewhere, much of the film hinges on how Lucy handles this transition, while a far-flung job offer threatens to take Jane away at a crucial moment to create impetus.
On so many levels Am I OK? embraces formula and concedes to convention, as the romantic comedy gets retrofitted for a culture which defies definition. That being said, as a step forward in the genre it represents only minor movement, rather than a strident advance into new territory. Where giving the concept an engaging mainstream sheen, offers this film a broader appeal in terms of domestic box office. Those flagrant issues aside, Am I OK? does harbour other problems, not least of which are amongst the cast, who suffer from some severely limited screen time.
Sean Hayes, formerly of Will and Grace fame, is sorely underused as Jane’s boss at the advertising firm, while Jermaine Fowler also gets short thrift, as her thinly written boyfriend Danny. On the flip side, Molly Gordon excels in an excruciating role as work colleague Kat, who steamrollers over everyone in her desire to be front and centre. Elsewhere, Tig Notaro throws in a fleeting comedic turn as the hippy infused head of an abstract hammock retreat. Beyond that, this is business as usual, without the satisfaction of a saccharine soaked happy ending.
It may fail to dig too deeply into the potential discussion around gender identity, which would seem a natural progression in this era of gender fluidity, but then again, that would take away half the charm. Attraction is no longer a case of sexuality, as social media platforms like TikTok have pushed the concept into increasingly abstract cul-de-sacs. That being said, society has become extremely voyeuristic in its consumption of content, meaning people are only concerned with first impressions. From that perspective Am I OK? feels almost nostalgic in its approach to romantic liaisons.
The inclusion of this film in the Sundance line up expresses an ethos which has remained strong since its inception, as it looks to highlight new voices in film and cinema, that might not have an outlet elsewhere. Both Tig Notaro and Stephanie Allyne, who have been at Sundance before in different capacities, reflect exactly that approach. Meaning that with Am I OK? they have marked themselves out as directors of note, with a very personal take on this particular genre.
Going forward, it would be interesting to see what they can do with something more serious that demands a keener dramatic approach. With Notaro’s background in stand up and her natural inclination towards dramatic roles as an actor, it would seem like a natural progression for someone in her position. As a directing duo, if these two life partners can reinvigorate such a challenging genre in their first outing together, then it begs the question, what might they be capable of with something more leftfield. With any luck Am I OK? Will provide them with a launchpad to explore just that.
Dakota Johnson and Sonoya Mizuno lift this reinvention, with some genuinely engaging performances.