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Sundance 2022: ‘Am I OK?’ subverts classic coming-of-age narrative to center lifelong growth

Dakota Johnson (left) and Sonoya Mizuno (right) star as Lucy and Jane, respectively, in Tig Notaro and Stephanie Allynne’s “Am I OK?” The film intends to display a coming-of-age story past the traditional teens and 20s age range shown in many movies. (Courtesy of Sundance Institute)

"Am I OK?"

Directed by Tig Notaro and Stephanie Allynne

PICTURESTART

Jan. 24

By Vivian Xu

Jan. 28, 2022 3:12 p.m.

Warning: spoilers ahead.

Exploring the shades of gray in any situation is Dakota Johnson’s specialty.

Starring in Tig Notaro and Stephanie Allynne’s film “Am I OK?,” the actress plays Lucy, a directionless woman in her mid-30s whose coming out is catalyzed by her best friend Jane’s (Sonoya Mizuno) move to London. The film debuted in the premieres category of the Sundance Film Festival and marks the first time Notaro and Allynne have co-directed a piece, despite their long history as co-stars and spouses. While both Lucy and Jane navigate their romantic lives, the pulse of the film lies in their friendship, screenwriter Lauren Pomerantz said.

“(The script) is based on my real-life friendship with my best friend,” Pomerantz said. “It really was rooted in our friendship, and then when I was struggling with my coming out and my own journey, I realized that’s the story I want to tell.”

Lucy’s story begins with her wondering why she has never enjoyed being with men. Following Jane’s news, she confesses her confusion regarding her sexual orientation and her inclination that she may be attracted to women. From this point on, she embarks on an initially timid journey to explore her sexuality, from visiting gay clubs to chatting up women at bars.

While many films depict coming-of-age stories in one’s teens or 20s, Johnson said “Am I OK?” presents a more realistic depiction of dynamic lifelong growth and exploration rather than a sudden flip of the switch in a person’s development. Though Lucy chastises herself for not realizing her sexual orientation earlier, Johnson said her character’s arc presents a narrative often excluded from the typical film landscape.

“I prefer the world where people are allowed to continue to grow and figure themselves out for their entire lives,” Johnson said. “I don’t like this narrative that we’ve seen on screen in coming-of-age movies or buddy comedies that you have to be a fully realized person at a certain point, which (is) usually in your 20s, (because that) is impossible.”

As a woman in her mid-30s, Lucy’s exploration of her sexuality also brings nuances, Notaro said. From panicking about being kissed on the corner of her mouth to assuming an invite to try on clothes together has no underlying motivations, Lucy eventually ends up in bed with her co-worker and love interest Britt (Kiersey Clemons), a novel experience that Notaro said is further underscored by Lucy’s age.

“It’s so authentic feeling and tender but also hot,” Notaro said. “It’s this mix where you’re just like, ‘Oh my god, that’s good.’”

However, the interaction is a confusing one for Lucy as she receives mixed signals from Britt, who later ends up traveling to where her ex-boyfriend lives. Despite encouraging Lucy to step out of her comfort zone, Britt’s behavior perplexes Lucy, Johnson said, which ultimately pushes her to reconcile with and confide in Jane after their brief falling out.

Intimacy is not strictly relegated to the romantic realm, though, as Jane and Lucy’s friendship intends to highlight the emotional closeness of feminine relationships, Allynne said. In particular, Lucy’s coming out to Jane is representative of the pair’s strong bond, Allynne said, as they play with each others’ jewelry and face each other on a bed in a symmetrical shot.

“The coming out scene was a scene we talked about a lot,” Allynne said. “This is where they connect in this moment of female friendship and the intimacy of when you’re in bed together as friends.”

In line with motifs of exploration and discovery, Allynne said the nature of Lucy and Jane’s relationship is intentionally left slightly ambiguous. In early talks with Pomerantz, Allynne said the team questioned whether or not romance could blossom between the two women but decided to leave the interpretation up to the audience in favor of focusing on feminine connection rather than drawing a strict binary.

“(There’s) just the intimacy of female friendship and the closeness,” Allynne said. “We didn’t shy away from that and living in that gray space. While I don’t think they’re running off together or in love with each other, we didn’t want to make the point of, ‘But they’re totally friends.’ … They love each other, and we’re going to stay in that.”

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Vivian Xu | Daily Bruin senior staff
Xu is a senior staff writer for Arts & Entertainment. She previously served as the Arts editor from 2021-2022, the Music | Fine Arts editor from 2020-2021 and an Arts reporter from 2019-2020. She is a fourth-year neuroscience and anthropology student from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Xu is a senior staff writer for Arts & Entertainment. She previously served as the Arts editor from 2021-2022, the Music | Fine Arts editor from 2020-2021 and an Arts reporter from 2019-2020. She is a fourth-year neuroscience and anthropology student from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
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