The “coming out” film is a tried-and-true staple, typically focused on teens who are just beginning to explore their sexual identity. That might be the Hollywood roadmap for figuring this shit out, but it’s not real life. There is no set schedule, and oftentimes it takes people a while longer to accept, or just to feel in a safe enough place to embrace it. That’s the angle co-directors and married couple Tig Notaro and Stephanie Allynne are putting on Am I OK?, a charming if lightweight comedy about the stress of coming-out in one’s ’30s.
Elevated by the performances by Dakota Johnson and Sonoya Mizuno as longtime besties Lucy and Jane, the film is about discovering who you are and how that can also affect the people closest to you. Lucy and Jane are closer-than-close; they sit across from one another at the diner and know what the other is going to get. Not even Jane’s eager-to-please boyfriend (Jermaine Fowler) can hold a candle to their tight bond. But it’s also clear who has the upper hand in this friendship. Lucy is an aspiring artist who works as a receptionist at a spa, while Jane has her shit together; stable career, good boyfriend, prospects for the future.
When Jane reveals that she’s got a job promotion that will send her back home to London, Lucy freaks. They get drunk, and Lucy reveals something she’s been keeping quiet about for far too long: she likes women. Am I OK? does a fantastic job in these heart-to-heart moments; Lucy confused and embarrassed at how long it took her to discover her true self, and Jane supportive in a “take charge” kind of way. It’s her who encourages Lucy to get out there and start dating. But there’s already a prospect on the horizon in Lucy’s co-worker, the perky and possibly-interested Brittany (Kiersey Clemons), who just can’t keep her hands to herself.
Am I OK? is often heartfelt and funny about Lucy’s awkward first steps into lesbianism. She knows about and will go with Jane to the local queer club, The Womb, but won’t dance with anyone while her friend has all of the fun. Meanwhile, Jane’s attempts to help her friend quickly become controlling, leading to a conflict that threatens the friendship. This doesn’t lead to some gigantic blowup, just the kind of pointed, hurtful argument that people who love one another can have.
Everything in Am I OK? feels real and deeply personal, which is probably because so much of it is. Screenwriter Lauren Pomerantz based much of the Lucy/Jane relationship on her own coming-out story, and how it impacted her close friendship with producer Jessica Elbaum. There’s a little bit of the life of filmmakers Notaro and Allynne, as well, although something tells me their biggest contribution was in the movie’s sense of humor. All of its witty observations are, nonetheless, very surface-level. This isn’t a particularly deep film, and at times it feels outdated in its simple construction and familiar queer narrative. But Johnson, who is killing it again at Sundance between this film and Cha Cha Real Smooth, proves she is underrated as a comic talent. Mizuno is great, as well, even though Jane might come across as the more severe of the two women. Jane might be in a better place than Lucy, but she also has a lot of stuff to figure out about who she is without her best friend to lean on.
There are fun cameos and supporting roles, but nothing in particular stands out. Molly Gordon’s deadpan wit is welcome as Jane’s self-absorbed Instagram-obsessed colleague, their friendship a thorn in the side of an already-confused Lucy. Sean Hayes plays Jane’s conceited boss, while Notaro herself plays an aging hippie at a hammock retreat, a scene that is a poor attempt to inject broad humor where it’s not needed. Am I OK? might not have anything new to say about coming out, but it’s a lovely story about how lifelong friendships are made stronger when everyone is free to be their best selves.