Slight but intensely sensitive to growing pains, real-life couple Tig Notaro and Stephanie Allynne’s romantic drama Am I OK? finds Dakota Johnson in particularly smashing form. The underrated young star plays Lucy, a 30-something Los Angeles woman who discovers that the single biggest reason behind her poor luck with men is that she is, in fact, gay. It doesn’t exactly come as a surprise to her; a part of her had always known. But as the years went by and Lucy became more and more set in her ways, coming out perhaps started sounding like an unnecessary inconvenience to the comfortable life that she had constructed for herself. Am I ok? isn’t exactly a millennial malaise moviealthough filtered through Johnson’s signature brand of brittle vulnerability, even a superhero spectacle can become one anyway.

Instead, it’s the sort of coming-of-adulthood story that Lena Dunham perfected all those years ago with her seminal HBO series Girls. Like that show, about a group of recent college graduates navigating their way through the blind corners of life, Am I OK? is also an examination of female best friendship. Notaro and Allynne’s winning move, however, is to disguise it as a romantic comedy. Like its protagonist, who seems to have struggled with her identity for years, the movie appears to be unconvinced about how it wants to project itself in this garrulous, hyper-masculine world. Lucy is purposefully passive as she fumbles through life, seemingly unbothered by never having experienced true love, but delicately desperate to find it.

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am i ok Dakota Johnson in a still from Am I OK?

We first meet her mid-courtship with a rather unremarkable young man, whose tentative advances she reacts to by falling off her bed with a wine glass in her hand. It’s the ideal showcase for Johnson’s skills as a performer — she’s always been good at projecting neuroses on screen, and we all know what a good crier she is, but few would think of her as a physical comedian. In Am I OK?, she conducts herself with the coordination of a young child; Lucy constantly slouches in her seat, doesn’t seem to know how to wear an elegant dress, and treats her phone like her parents bought it for her.

They’re crucially absent from her life, and the movie doesn’t seem to be too bothered about that. Her only family, it seems, is her best friend Jane, played by Sonoya Mizuno. Lucy’s languid life is thrown into disarray when, seemingly out of the blue one day, Jane tells her that she has accepted a fancy job in faraway London. The conversation that they have later that day offers the first indication of the kind of film that Am I OK? is going to be. Sure, Lucy will meet someone and start a whirlwind romance, but primarily, this is a rom-com about best friends.

Festive offer

While Lucy initially pretends to be happy for Jane, it doesn’t take too long for her to break down. Further differences begin to creep in when Jane grows close to an annoying co-worker named Kat, played by the very funny Molly Gordon. It’s like she’s already started seeing someone else — that, too, someone that Lucy so openly despises — while the corpse of her past relationship is still warm. Mizuno and Johnson are fire on screen, and their scenes are about as sparkling as the two, maybe three, romantic interactions that Lucy has with her love interest Brittany, a massage therapist played by Kiersey Clemons.

The two actors are effortless in communicating the lived-in nature of Lucy and Jane’s relationship. We aren’t really told how long they’ve known each other, although a late-period clue certainly establishes a timeline. But they converse only like two people who are intimately familiar with each other could. In their big argument — this is the second break-up scene — they know exactly which weapons to unsheathe, and more crucially, when. It helps that they attack the same situation with different strategies, which makes the drama richer. It’s the sort of movie that you’d normally expect to feature teenagers, but perhaps this is Notaro and Allynne’s grand statement about the arrested development that millennials appear to be afflicted by.

am i ok Dakota Johnson in a still from Am I OK?

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While their direction doesn’t really call attention to itself — that is a very masculine thing to do, isn’t it? — the screenplay, by Lauren Pomerantz, is able to deftly dance between slacker humor and heartfelt emotion; and on a couple of occasions, pure, unadulterated erotica. It’s a difficult tonal balancing act to pull off, but Johnson’s charming performance helps Lucy navigate a maze of emotions without ever making things feel too heavy. It’s not that she isn’t capable of embodying tragedy — she did it so well The Lost Daughter and Cha Cha Real Smooth — but this isn’t the place for it.

At less than 90 minutes long, Am I OK? doesn’t wallow in sadness, nor does it allow itself to be swept away by glee. Despite its occasional goofiness, it’s almost always composed. Lucy herself is frequently poked at for lacking the courage to say ‘yes’ when ‘no’ is an option; she has, after all, already made the formative decisions of her life. But there’s little room for frustration here; you won’t find an outlandish sequences in which Lucy jumps into a lake, or goes on a drug-fuelled bender, or shoots a gun in the air. What is it that Americans do? Who knows? But one thing’s for sure, they’re really good at making these Sundance-y comedy-dramas.

Am I ok?
Directors – Tig Notaro, Stephanie Allynne
Cast – Dakota Johnson, Sonoya Mizuno, Kiersey Clemons
Rating – 3.5/5