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Growing Apart

Emily Knecht/Sundance Institute

Am I OK? (2022)

It’s a Hollywood adage that putting a question mark in a movie title is bad luck. For a movie that centers on anxiety, the question mark in “Am I OK?” is a surprising choice. But that’s the only old adage codirectors Tig Notaro and Stephanie Allynne, directing Lauren Pomerantz’s script, have ignored. This is a glossy movie, in the tradition of Claudia Weill’s “Girlfriends” and Noah Baumbach’s “Frances Ha,” about how underemployed female best friends maintain their closeness as adulthood pulls them in separate directions. It looks modern, but it’s nothing new. Not even its exploration of coming out as portrayed by the most sexually bold actress of her generation contains anything like a surprise.

Lucy (Dakota Johnson) and Jane (Sonoya Mizuno) live in Los Angeles, where they suffer from the “Kajillionaire” problem (also suffered by the cast of “Sharp Stick”) and have lived to their early 30s without reaching emotional maturity. Jane’s boyfriend Danny (Jermaine Fowler) has had no effect on the closeness which started in their teens. They are dissatisfied with life but boy howdy do they love each other. But hark, change is thrust upon them. Jane’s boss Stu (Sean Hayes, a delight) offers her the chance to run their company’s London office. And Lucy finally admits, first to Jane, and only then to herself, that she is a lesbian. Adulthood can no longer be avoided!

But can it? Jane grew up in London until she was 16, when she was brought to America after her parents split. Her promotion has the potential to be permanent, meaning Jane suddenly has the option to completely reinvent her life in her home country, if that’s what she wants. But Jane’s decision, and Ms. Mizuno’s relaxed acting, come second to Lucy’s anxiety, which has been allowed to swallow all the emotional air between them. Lucy is irritated with herself for taking so long to understand her own sexuality; and while Jane is happy to Lucy’s No. 1 cheerleader, Lucy doesn’t see the need to return the favor. They are both completely freaking out about their potential physical separation, but the movie aligns itself with Lucy’s feelings, a lazy choice.

Fortunately for Lucy, there’s a new masseuse at the spa where she works. Brittany (Kiersey Clemons) is cheerful and touchy-feely, and any gay woman will recognize Lucy’s fretting over the not-at-all mixed signals Brittany is sending. At one point Brittany suggests she and Lucy have a “try-on party” – as in, she’ll bring a bunch of her own clothes to Lucy’s apartment for her to try on – and Lucy still doesn’t get the hint. Ms. Clemons is a winsome presence, a chipper foil to Ms. Johnson’s contained stillness, but there are two problems with their scenes together. The first is that anyone hoping Ms. Johnson has somehow found new sex stuff to do onscreen will leave disappointed. The other is that it’s past time for American movies to involve people of color teaching white people how to feel. When will that stop?

If Ms. Mizuno and Ms. Johnson had swapped parts, would this have been so boring? Probably not. A white woman helping her Asian friend manage her anxiety and cheerlead her sexual adventures is not a movie that’s been made before. Ms. Notaro (who gave herself a cameo as the leader of a hammock-themed spiritual retreat) has had a big impact in altering how Hollywood handles female sexuality onscreen, so it’s really disappointing she and Ms. Allynne relied on so many outdated racial clichés. And it’s strange that this moment in the American film industry seems quite taken with stories about people who’ve been frozen for a long time. What is that a metaphor for? The whole point of a movie is showing how people change their behavior (or don’t) in the face of new information. In some ways, gayness joining the status quo is a cultural triumph. But seeing your 32nd birthday before you come of age is an unmitigated cultural disaster. A smarter movie with a question in the title would also have an answer.


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