In the last few years, there’s been a growth in the production of LGBTQ+ content. It’s exciting to see the diverse experiences that can now be brought to the screen, and although we still have a long way to go with representation, every new entry into queer cinema is a gift and offers us all something to learn from. Co-directors Stephanie Allynne and Tig Notaro’s debut feature offers up another unique queer film. Written by Lauren Pomerantz — who was inspired by her own experience while writing the screenplay — Am I OK? is a refreshingly warm take on the coming-of-age genre through the scope of coming out.
Typically, the coming-of-age lens is reserved for teenagers discovering themselves in high school or college students navigating the changes from adolescence to adulthood. Am I OK? declares that you can still not have everything figured out in your thirties, either — and what a relief that is to hear.
Lucy (Dakota Johnson) and Jane (Sonoya Mizuno) are inseparable. As early-thirty-somethings, their lives reflect the opposite ends of the spectrum that friends can be on at this stage in life. Jane has a successful career, a steady relationship with her long-term boyfriend Danny (Jermaine Fowler), and seems to be doing just fine. Meanwhile, Lucy struggles with dating and has abandoned her passion as a painter to work at a spa with her flirty boss Brittany (Kiersey Clemons). These differences erupt when Jane is suddenly moving to London and Lucy realizes she’s gay.
Lucy’s revelation of her queerness signals a changing point for her. Everything clicks into place once she finally says it out loud, as if she’s been waiting for that answer her whole life. However, realizing you’re gay doesn’t mean all the hard parts are over. For Lucy, knowing she’s a lesbian does answer a lot of questions about why she’s never been in love or felt true success in her relationships with men. It should be exciting for her, then, now that she has the answer she’s always needed — except it isn’t. While Jane is the positive, energetic best friend attempting to get Lucy out to gay bars and on dates with women as fast as possible before she moves to London, Lucy is hesitant to jump into these experiences. Her inability to say the word ‘lesbian’ or to feel excited about this revelation is confusing to Jane, who sees this as an exciting opportunity. What Jane doesn’t realize is that while being out isn’t as dangerous for some people as it used to be, it can still be an incredibly personal and life-altering thing to go through. This misunderstanding begins to cause rifts in their friendship.
Although their friendship troubles are painful to watch — especially due to Johnson and Mizuno’s excellent chemistry — the film maintains an upbeat tone throughout its runtime. Notaro and Allynne are known for their comic chops, so it’s no surprise that, although Am I OK? portrays serious, painful realities, it still finds comedy in the awkwardness of coming out. The film is filled with easygoing humor that slips right into the story, and the supporting cast play a huge role in this effort, offering up little quips or hilarious character quirks — Clemons especially. It is refreshing to watch a story about something so intimidating — and that is particularly about a lesbian character — that preserves its warmth in every frame.
With a script penned by a gay woman who has lived this very specific situation and two queer women directing, the experiences represented in Am I OK? feel so genuine. The coming out scene that takes place between Lucy and Jane is vulnerable, honest, and viscerally realistic. Lucy’s frustration at herself for not understanding herself sooner is clear in Johnson’s quiet admission.
Am I OK? balances a personal, intimate experience that is rarely represented onscreen with such gentleness and buoyancy. Johnson and Mizuno deliver well-rounded performances, but Johnson’s nuanced delivery of Lucy is a standout. Her performance helps carry the beautifully written script, resulting in a fully realized portrayal. The journey she goes on in this film illustrates the complex, confusing, and daunting reality of coming out, and, more specifically, of coming out at a later age than “the norm.” What comes of all of this is an authentic and moving depiction of finding yourself — no matter what age you are — and being okay with it.