“Am I OK?” is a friendship story.
The feature directing debut of Tig Notaro and Stephanie Allynne, the film — which premiered Monday at the Sundance Film Festival — stars Dakota Johnson and Sonoya Mizuno as best friends navigating changes to their relationship and their lives.
After learning that Jane’s (Mizuno) promotion will involve her moving from L.A. to London, Lucy (Johnson) shares a secret that she’s kept from her friend who otherwise knows everything about her: Lucy is attracted to women, but she’s a bit self-conscious that this realization has come later than she believes it should.
The story is personal for screenwriter Lauren Pomerantz, who previously worked on TV shows including “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.” “Am I OK?” is her first feature.
“I started writing this … while I was working my TV day job,” said Pomerantz during a virtual L.A. Times Talks @ Sundance panel, sponsored by Chase Sapphire (the video is embedded above). “I actually quit that job to finish writing it because I knew that I probably would never finish it if I was still working.… And then, I simultaneously began my coming out journey and realized that’s the story that I wanted to tell and that’s the movie I wanted to write.”
While coming out stories are not new, the ones most often depicted in pop culture are those involving teens and younger adults. This lack of visibility for her lived experience was one of the reasons that motivated Pomerantz in writing this story.
“I hope that it helps other people realize that there is no timeline to figuring it out,” said Pomerantz. “There’s no timeline to figuring anything out — whether it’s [your] career and sexuality and whatever it might be … you don’t have to do it by the time you’re 18.”
“I think there’s such an emphasis on age just in everything [that] people beat themselves up [over],” added Allynne. “If something’s calling you, it’s not easier to not do it. It’s harder to not do it. And the other side of that thing is so great and so wonderful if you can just go easy on yourself and go toward it. That’s what everybody’s hoping for you, whether it’s coming out or anything [else] you want to do.”
Johnson also believed “the story was important” to tell and appreciated that it was “not too self-serious.”
“I thought it was … very real and honest without being heavy,” said Johnson. “And there’s levity to it, which I always find nice when there’s difficult, complicated subject matter. And it’s complicated, but it’s really not. It’s quite simple.”
Although “Am I OK?” is about Lucy’s coming out journey, the central relationship is Lucy and Jane’s friendship. And this friendship is one of the aspects that drew both Johnson and Mizuno to the film.
“I had never really explored [female friendships] in my work so that was something I thought would be really interesting,” said Mizuno. And “I think that this idea of being in your 30s and having everything figured out is not true for me, and I don’t think it’s true for these girls at this point. I really like the idea of looking at that.”
While both directors were drawn to the screenplay, Notaro explained that directing it was still “very much one of the most terrifying things to say yes to,” particularly because of the challenges of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Notaro, who is married to Allynne, explained she is thankful that they were able to helm the project together.
“Having Stephanie there with me is always a comfort,” said Notaro. “We’ve worked on so many different projects together and I think that that put me at ease. And being excited about the project in general was helpful in the learning process.”
“Am I OK?” is also one of the first times Johnson has taken on a producer role through her company, TeaTime Pictures. Johnson, who had become friends with Notaro after the comedian performed a set for her birthday, joked how she “basically just forced [her] company upon everyone” after she was approached for the role.
“I was like, ‘Yeah, I’ll do this if you let me produce it too,’” said Johnson. “They had no choice.”