‘Am I OK?’ Review: When It’s Time to Grow Up

‘Am I OK?’ Review: When It’s Time to Grow Up

The appeal of the late bloomer movie is rooted in its parent genre: the coming-of-age story. Our heroine begins a little naïve and learns some hard but good lessons, maybe falls in love. Sometimes a mentor provides wisdom before leaving her to stand on her own two feet. In a traditional coming-of-age story, the protagonist is usually very young, so that world is full of possibility. Anything could happen next.

But with a late bloomer, the world’s possibilities have been shut down a little, and that shifts the tone. Decisions about career, friendships and family have already been made; the stakes of change are higher. That means a late bloomer story could be a comedy, or it could feel more melancholy, even like a tragedy. There’s an inherent realism in a film like “All of Us Strangers” or “Her” or “20th Century Women” that’s bracing and invigorating.

Depending on your age, Lucy (Dakota Johnson), who is 32, may not feel old enough to be termed a late bloomer. But she certainly feels like she is. The protagonist of “Am I OK?” has settled into a quiet, unchallenging Los Angeles life. She’s the kind of person who stares at a diner menu full of options and then orders the same meal — veggie burger, sweet potato fries, black iced coffee — every time. She spends most of her free time with Jane (Sonoya Mizuno), her childhood best friend, and keeps her life ripple-free. She’s never been in love. At the end of dinners with Ben (Whitmer Thomas), the guy she’s ostensibly dating, she shakes his hand.

By her own admission, Lucy is nervous all the time, “scared of everything.” Worse, she says, she’s not sure if she’s ever been happy, or what even makes her happy. She has built herself a comfortable box to live in, as long as nothing changes.

Her box is about to cave in. One day, Jane announces that she’s moving to London for work, and Lucy suddenly feels unmoored. A feeling that’s been growing inside her is now too strong to ignore: Lucy knows she’s attracted to women. And she’s especially attracted to Brittany (Kiersey Clemons), the peppy new masseuse at the spa where she works as a receptionist.

This one-two punch sends Lucy on a journey of self-discovery, which sounds like it could be the premise for a very annoying movie filled with metaphorical pratfalls and tired, winking tropes. Thankfully, that’s not “Am I OK?,” and there’s an obvious reason: Lucy is the semi-autobiographical creation of the screenwriter Lauren Pomerantz, and the story is based on her own experience.

Directed with a light and understated touch by a power couple — the comedian Tig Notaro and the actress Stephanie Allynne — the movie feels very lived-in, the banter fresh and funny, even if sometimes it feels like it’s standing in place a bit too long (a scene involving a “hammock sanctuary,” while funny, seems out of place in this script).

A late bloomer story depends on the audience believing the character isn’t too naïve, but also has space to grow, and that works well here. While Johnson has had a weird career in the past few years, culminating in the bizarre “Madame Web,” this movie, which premiered at Sundance in 2022, gives her the kind of role that matches her matter-of-fact public persona, even if Lucy is much more shy. The right chemistry is there, too — if you told me Johnson and Mizuno had been friends since the third grade and hike on weekends, I’d believe you. (Molly Gordon also appears in a pitch-perfect performance as Kat, Jane’s vibrantly irritating work bestie.)

On the surface, “Am I OK?” is a coming-out tale, and that’s how it’s being pitched by the movie’s marketing. But there’s an expansiveness to it, a sense that Lucy’s sexuality is not the only or most interesting thing about her growth. Really, “Am I OK?” is the story of a friendship growing from one stage to another — of the moment when youthful naïveté about life and friendship, the idea that we’ll just go on together this way forever, has to grow up. It turns out both Lucy and Jane have hard lessons to learn about the selves they’ve grown into, and it’s in their longstanding trust and care that they can start to become more than who they are. Their friendship is blooming into a new era, a bond with a future, and the world is full of possibility.

Am I OK?
Rated R for frank discussions of sex and anatomy, as well as some swear words and a sex scene. Running time: 1 hour 26 minutes. Watch on Max.

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