‘Am I OK?’ Film Review: Dakota Johnson Questions a Few Shades of Sexuality in Warmhearted Buddy Comedy

Sundance 2022: Tig Notaro and Stephanie Allynne make their directorial debut with a crowd-pleaser that has some moments of hesitation

Sundance Institute

A warmhearted crowdpleaser undercut by moments of hesitation, “Am I OK?” has all the makings of an unqualified delight.

It stars Dakota Johnson, who is gifted enough to rise above mediocre movies (“Fifty Shades of Grey”) and to deepen excellent ones (“The Lost Daughter”). It serves as the feature debut for co-directors Tig Notaro and her wife, Stephanie Allynne, and for “SNL” writer Lauren Pomerantz. And its charms will keep viewers rooting for it throughout, even if it ultimately echoes some of the uncertainty plaguing Johnson’s character, Lucy.

Though she’s 32, Lucy acts more like a shy teenager, tentative in every way about everything. She calls her drinks “tequiles” and her muffins “bluebs.” She spends her days working at an ultra-posh LA spa, and her nights at bars filled with people who look like, well, Dakota Johnson. Yet she’s shocked when someone suggests she wear a shoulder-baring shirt, and she’s currently trying to decide if she might be gay by Googling quizzes that want to know if she listens to Tegan and Sara.

She is womb-close with her longtime best friend Jane (Sonoya Mizuno, “Devs”), but only now is she confessing — both to Jane and herself — that she might not actually be into the guys Jane suggests she date. As with all else in her life, Lucy is in a state of highest anxiety about her sexual identity and wants to address it both now and never.

Jane says, “There’s no timeline to figuring this out,” and there’s a lot of room for exploration and insight in that premise. Pomerantz based the story on her own experience 15 years ago, and she addresses Lucy’s journey with good-humored empathy. But the world has changed so much in recent years that the ways in which these characters approach sexuality can seem unexpectedly stilted. This is particularly true when dialogue and scenarios feel written to represent particular concepts: Friendship, Experimentation, Awkwardness, Maturity.

The asymmetrical approach to the characters furthers the film’s sense of unevenness. Lucy and Jane are designed as real people, and the tensions in their friendship are likely to ring familiar to many. Johnson, in particular, captures the fraught nature of a changing relationship with characteristic grace. When Jane tells Lucy she’s moving to London for work, we see Lucy’s expression falter even as she tries to rally: “Awesome! That’s so awesome. This is awesome,” she says, in a doomed attempt to sublimate her own fear while sharing her bestie’s excitement. And when Jane is hurt by Lucy’s withdrawal, her boyfriend (Jermaine Fowler, “Coming 2 America”) offers the kind of thoughtful advice we’d all want from our significant others.

So it does feel a bit jarring when characters around them are sketched more as a symbols or even caricatures. Jane’s boss (Sean Hayes) is wacky and out of touch; her colleague Kat (Molly Gordon, “Shiva Baby”) is wacky and trend-obsessed. Lucy’s first potential girlfriend, Brit (Kiersey Clemons), comes on so strong so fast that she feels two-dimensional, and the appealing Clemons underused.

That said, there’s a charming and relatable dramedy around the more unsettled approaches to Lucy’s life. (There’s also a funny one, as is evidenced by Notaro’s laugh-out-loud cameo as the owner of a hammock-based emotional retreat.) And the movie looks great, thanks to smart use of LA locales, sharp editing from Kayla Emter (“Hustlers”), and lovely, crisp cinematography from Cristina Dunlap (who also shot Johnson’s other Sundance entry, “Cha Cha Real Smooth”).

But the movie doesn’t fully relax into itself until Lucy finally finds her footing, toward the end. It’s here, as she opens up to life, that we realize how invested we are in her success, If this team wants to reconnect to catch us up on Lucy’s next adventures? That’d be more than OK.

“Am I OK?” makes its world premiere at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.