‘Am I Ok?’ adds soul to buddy comedy

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We start – why not? – with a veggie burger. Lucy (Dakota Johnson) and Jane (Sonoya Mizuno), besties in their 30s, have been so close for so long that when they meet at the diner, Jane can just recite Lucy’s regular order: Veggie burger and sweet potato fries. And so when, late into “Am I Ok?’, Lucy goes rogue and orders a tomato and spinach omelet, there’s a look of subtle hurt that flits across Jane’s face. It seems silly – it was just a veggie burger – but to Jane it signifies something familiar and comforting that’s now gone.

There are similarly sweet, subtle touches peppered through this debut directorial effort by Tig Notaro and Stephanie Allynne – touches that land much better than the occasional attempts at broad humor that feel forced, or at least like a different movie (for example, the dialogue given to Jane’s boss, played by Sean Hayes). And of course, there’s Johnson herself, the obvious focus of the lingering camera throughout, and for good reason: her always-winning authenticity, shining through in film after film even at times when the material around her feels thin.

The story here is simple and heartfelt. It’s a coming- out tale, but with the twist that the person coming out is 32, a decade (or even two) later than in most stories we see. This particular story belongs to the film’s writer, Lauren Pomerantz, who came out when she was 34. Her closeness to the proceedings is evident in a few startlingly poignant moments – for example, the pain that Lucy feels when a straight woman toys with her emotions (and more). It’s one of the most moving passages in the film. After an opening montage that establishes the female friendship at the core of the movie, we begin at the aforementioned diner, with Jane telling Lucy (over the aforementioned veggie burger) that she really needs to get together with a certain cute male friend who obviously likes her: “Just do it,” she says. Lucy can’t explain why she doesn’t want to.

Meanwhile, Jane, the more professionally advanced of the two, has a major life change coming. Her boss offers her the chance to leave Los Angeles and set up a London office. Plus, her very nice boyfriend (Jermaine Fowler, not given enough to work with for too much of the film) is coming along. But for Lucy, this news is devastating – and you can tell by the unconvincing way she keeps saying “Awesome!” when Jane tells her one evening over drinks. After lots of tequila, the two friends end up crying together, as close friends do (at least in the movies) in the bathroom while peeing, and then later, on a sleepover. There, Lucy finally tells Jane that she likes girls.

But there’s this sensuous masseuse (Kiersey Clemons) at the spa where Lucy’s a receptionist. Brittany is flirting like crazy with Lucy, who finally gets up the courage to respond. She brings Lucy out of her shell, but with ultimately disheartening results. And Lucy’s on the outs now with Jane, normally the first person she’d call with any heartache. This movie may be about a pair of friends, but witnessing the supremely watchable Johnson navigate uncertainty and sadness, it’s Lucy’s life you’ll find yourself caring about most.

A last-minute obstacle to Jane’s well-laid plans for her trip to London rings a bit false – or maybe it just seems wedged in as if to say, well, both women have issues. In any case, It’s been a good month for female buddy comedies. While Pamela Adlon’s comedy “Babes,” went all in for the raunch inherent in childbirth, “Am I OK?” goes for a sweeter, soulful vibe. It feels good that we end up where we began – back at that table in the diner, hashing stuff out.

The ultimate message here may be simple, but it’s comforting: friendships may change but can still adapt, withstand and survive. Even when a veggie burger yields to an omelet. “Am I OK?’, a Warner Bros release, has been rated R by the Motion Picture Association “for language, sexual references and some drug use.” Running time: 86 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.

By Jocelyn Noveck

This news has been read 1241 times!

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