I’ve just returned from Park City, Utah, and my first Sundance experience (virtual, of course), and I have good news to share. Tig Notaro and her wife, Stephanie Allynne, have co-directed a female buddy “rom-com” for our times. They have elicited strong performances, most notably from Dakota Johnson as the lead character, Lucy, a 30-something woman who is adrift in her life, avoiding both her sexuality and calling as an artist. Johnson burned it up at Sundance this year, between this portrayal and her role in “Cha Cha Real Smooth.”
Lucy has always been attracted to women but has never acted on it. She reluctantly comes out to her best friend, Jane (Sonoya Mizuno), insisting that she doesn’t want to come out, she doesn’t want to be different or make a fuss about any of it. The friendship between these two women is the central relationship of the film. Jane has a boyfriend, appealingly portrayed by Jermaine Fowler, and she is far more career-driven than Lucy, but the two are so in synch and so genuinely supportive and fond of each other, that it seems not to matter.
As noted in the NYTimes of January 23, 2022, it has been thirty years since the “Barbed Wire Kisses” panel convened at Sundance, signaling the arrival of “New Queer Cinema” that was edgy, bold, political and brave. Among the panel members were B. Ruby Rich, Tom Kalin, Isaac Julien, Derek Jarman, and Todd Haynes. Rich wrote, “There was a pushing against genre and boundaries, and against what was being received as more classical ways of filmmaking—a disruption.” “Am I OK?” is not that sort of film. Gone is the anger and edginess, but we still have a very long way to go in achieving gender parity in the film industry.
Notaro and Allynne have made a lighthearted comedy with believable and relatable characters. This is not to say that neither has done her share of courageous boundary-pushing. In 2015, Tig appeared topless in her HBO comedy special, not to titillate, but to raise consciousness about her double mastectomy by showing her flat, unreconstructed chest in a nonchalant way. Two years later, she had a successful run with Amazon Studio’s “One Mississippi,” with Executive Producer Louis C.K. The second season included an episode in which her love interest (her wife, Stephanie), was expected to watch the station manager masturbate. Sound familiar? And alas, the planned third season was abruptly canceled.
“Am I OK?” is well worth seeing. But if you missed “One Mississippi,” be sure to see it. It was a critical success for a good reason.
Review: Janet Prolman
Janet Prolman was born in Boston, Massachusetts, where her mother nicknamed her “my little queer.” She has also lived in North Carolina and New York. A lover of short stories, theater, music, and performance, she knows the lyrics to almost every song or advertising jingle she’s ever heard. Now on Cape Cod, she enjoys kayaking and frequenting Provincetown.