Sundance 2022: Tig Notaro’s “Am I OK?” Is a Coming Out Story That Belongs in the 2010s

Autostraddle is back at Sundance — virtually! Drew Gregory is coming to you daily for the next week with all the LGBTQ+ movies at one of the most prestigious film festivals in the world. Follow her on Twitter for more.


If Tig Notaro and Stephanie Allynne’s directorial debut Am I Ok? had been released in 2015 it would have been sweet and mediocre — in 2022 it’s insufferable.

Dakota Johnson plays Lucy, a 32-year-old painter and masseuse receptionist whose primary relationship is her co-dependent friendship with Jane (a charming Sonoya Mizuno). She never dates and doesn’t know why until two major events occur in her life — Jane announces that she’s moving to London and Kiersey Clemons starts working at her spa.

Lucy realizes she’s a lesbian and begins to spiral in all the expected ways. She feels embarrassed it took this long, timid on next steps, and generally overwhelmed. She’s relied on her friendship with Jane to fill the spot where romance could be but now Jane is leaving and it’s time to move on. It’s time to move on to Kiersey Clemons’ character Brit who has been flirting like she might want to make out.

Making an indie romcom that’s actually about friendship hasn’t been a novelty since Frances Ha (2013) ripped off Girlfriends (1978). Making one of the women straight and one of them gay hasn’t been a novelty since Life Partners (2014). Combining that with a coming out story hasn’t been a novelty since Almost Adults (2016). And as far as it being a coming-of-age movie about a woman in her 30s, the only thing the canon of lesbian cinema has more of than actual coming-of-age movies are tales of delayed discovery.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with a movie being formulaic and cliché. Not every queer movie needs to break new ground. But when a movie stars Dakota Johnson and hits the same story beats as so many other movies, it can’t get away with being mediocre. It can’t get away with just having a solid cast and a good soundtrack. It can’t get away with writing so bad from longtime Ellen Show writer Lauren Pomerantz that it feels like revenge against Johnson for ruining her former boss’ career.

It’s not just that the script has less laughs than 30 seconds of a Notaro stand up special. It’s also an absolute mess on a character and structural level. Every plot turn feels contrived — drama for drama’s sake — and the characters feel less like people than like lists of stated personality traits deepened only by good performances. The movie wants us to believe Jane is controlling — they say this explicitly — but we don’t actually feel that. The way the movies gives examples— like with her saying to eat a certain muffin — feel like additions suggested by a bad screenwriting class rather than true representations of those qualities.

Clemons’ character, especially, is totally baffling. Of course, a first gay crush being filled with confusion is realistic. But the ways Brit is confusing feel twisted for plot convenience rather than grounded in real experiences. Brit is not a person — she’s a charming series of conflicting plot devices that help Lucy on her journey.

If I seem particularly harsh on what is ultimately a harmless 86 minute Sundance dramedy, it’s because so many other queer women movies deserve the press this will inevitably receive. It’s because this movie is not only dated in its plot but in its inclusivity. The only scene we get in a queer space takes place in a mythical LA lesbian bar populated by only one person who is masc of center. Everyone else is femme. Everyone is thin. The first time a fat person is on-screen it’s toward the end of the movie to mock the way a man is shoving food in his mouth. The film also repeatedly connects lesbianism to vaginas. Which, look, it’s not unrealistic for a straight woman and a newly out cis woman to be hyper-focused on genitalia. But maybe we don’t need any more movies with characters where this would be realistic. Or maybe we could cut those lines because it’s not like anything else in this movie was grounded in realism.

It’s great that since the early 2010s — when this movie should’ve been made — white filmmakers have learned to not have all-white casts. But placing talented actors of color into poorly written parts surrounded by an almost all-white production team isn’t really changing anything. This movie is still indicative of gay cinema’s most regressive instincts.

Sometimes when I’m assigned to cover a movie, I request that somebody else take over. I know my voice isn’t always needed in the response to a film. But this is the first time I considered doing that not because of marginalized experiences I lack but because of marginalized experiences I have.

I can imagine a lot of cis women — especially cis women who look like Dakota Johnson — really enjoying this movie. I can imagine this being a breezy good time for people who don’t cringe when vaginas are equated to womanhood or fat people exist only to be mocked. Or I can even imagine this being a meaningful film for women whose experiences mirror Lucy’s — and who haven’t seen a lot of other lesbian films.

I know that Am I OK? was not made for me. And that’s okay. I’m glad Lauren Pomerantz got to tell her story even if she didn’t do it well. I just wish more of us got the same opportunities to tell our stories. I wish the dozens of queer films released each year weren’t still overwhelmingly about cis white thin people without disabilities.

But I shouldn’t blame this one movie for those frustrations. And if you’re like me and don’t respond to this one, just know there are so many more movies than the ones starring famous actors. You don’t need to limit yourself to the queer cinema that trends on Twitter. Some of our stories are being told — some of us are even doing it well.


Before you go! It costs money to make indie queer media, and frankly, we need more members to survive 2023As thanks for LITERALLY keeping us alive, A+ members get access to bonus content, extra Saturday puzzles, and more! Will you join? Cancel anytime.

Join A+!
Related:

Drew Burnett Gregory

Drew is an LA-based writer, filmmaker, and theatremaker. Her writing can be found at Bright Wall/Dark Room, Cosmopolitan UK, Thrillist, I Heart Female Directors, and, of course, Autostraddle. She is currently working on a million film and TV projects mostly about trans lesbians. Find her on Twitter and Instagram @draw_gregory.

Drew Burnett has written 313 articles for us.

63 Comments

  1. Ugh, I was hoping for this to be good even though I found the synopsis underwhelming because I’ve got so much goodwill toward Tig. For anyone who’s dying for this kind of story I guess rewatching One Mississippi is probably a better idea even though it doesn’t center on Stephanie’s experience.

  2. As someone who reads a lot of lesbian romance novels written by middle-aged white cis ladies, I feel like I’m going to enjoy this a lot, I’m impervious to bad writing or contrived plot devices to create drama for drama’s sake when it comes to sapphic content.

  3. I’m actually genuinely thrilled by how ruthless this is. Gay cinema is grown up now. Let’s get down to brass tacks and expect better. I’m glad you didn’t get someone else to cover it.

    • Big agree—I was really excited to see this film and I definitely still looking forward to it, but I will for sure be watching with a more critical eye for representation thanks to this review. The variety of diverse perspectives is one of my favorite parts of reading stuff on Autostraddle, and it’s a huge part of why I come back here over and over again for queer media reviews. Thanks for sharing, Drew!

  4. Having watched this last night, I would say that I agree with Drew that there are a lot of plot contrivances and thin characterization but it wasn’t enough to make me regret watching the film. Did it make me want to just rewatch One Mississippi? Kind of. I wonder if the script would have been better if it was written by Tig and/or Stephanie. But it was ultimately a pretty light movie, and I’m always here for more movies about friendships between straight women and queer women since one of my best friends is straight. Caveat also that I’m South Asian American, so I have largely given up on seeing myself in any kind of media, which makes watching a movie about a thin white woman more tolerable.

  5. this is too bad, since we know they’ve got One Mississippi-level storytelling somewhere in there!

    i actually don’t hate the idea of continuing to tell stories of people who come out in their thirties — hello, it’s me, and when I was coming out at thirty, I couldn’t find a lot of those stories that weren’t either unwatchable (see Erin’s old retro reviews) or about predators, like Loving Annabelle. So much seemed to be about teenagers! I’m sure they were out there, Drew, you would know better than me, but I didn’t find them when I needed them, pre-2016.

    all of which is to say that the last thing we need is another unwatchable one! and tig, as we know, can be a really poignant storyteller. here’s hoping for a better next effort, i guess!

      • True, but Roger Ebert was also a cishet white man, and therefore was allowed to get away with it, while sadly it seems even in this space Drew is being attacked for not being “one of the nice ones.” 😞

        I miss the old days when the AS comments section used to be one of the only safe spaces on the internet. Trolls are the price of growth I guess.

        • I don’t think all queer movies have to go out of its way to represent everything. This sounds like a basic cis centric sapphic affair and that’s not a mortal sin, it’s not unrealistic that the vagina would be a central component of certain lesbians identity. I think that’s fine.

          It’s just a shame it sounds like an average direct to DVD movie, but like I said in an earlier comment, I will probably enjoy it. I’m very basic.

    • This is such a good point. I also, selfishly, want more stories about older queer folks and people who don’t figure themselves out in their teens or even their twenties. I’m also disappointed to hear that this isn’t a good telling, because I was hopeful.

  6. Returning to the comments to say that Drew is not being mean and people need to learn how to accept that a critic may have a different opinion of a movie than they do! It’s 2022, we don’t have to blindly endorse movies just because they’re queer anymore, we can and should demand better. A media critic’s job is to engage thoughtfully with the material and interpret the themes/artistic choices for a wider audience. I actually quite enjoyed the movie and I thought Drew was more than fair in her review.

  7. People did call Roger Ebert mean, but they also celebrated it because he was deliciously, wonderfully, entertainingly mean. There are even multiple books that collect his harshest reviews. This review has the harshness, but not necessarily the panache and humor of the best bad Ebert reviews, but I still like it. We are not obligated to like all queer art just cause it’s queer!

  8. Yeah this is certainly a harsh review at times but that’s something that critics are allowed to do. Drew even acknowledges that it is harsh. You’re also allowed to like it and disagree with everything in the review. I knew when I saw this movie coming out that Drew wouldn’t like it for the exact reasons stated in the review but I like reading these reviews cause they challenge my very different opinion.

  9. You didn’t like the movie and expressed your opinion, totally fine.

    I’m a little concearned about this idea that this movie “shouldn’t be allowed to exist” ’cause it takes space from other movies that you personally prefer…

    • I interpreted Drew’s review very differently. I didn’t read anything that implied that this movie shouldn’t exist. In fact she clearly states that she’s glad it exists, she just wishes it were better and that other, less mainstream films got the same level of attention.

      “I’m glad Lauren Pomerantz got to tell her story even if she didn’t do it well. I just wish more of us got the same opportunities to tell our stories.”

      • I generally enjoy Drew’s sharp critical eye, particularly as it relates to the latest season of Gen Q. She is clever, astute, and entertaining to listen to.

        That said, I haven’t seen this movie, so perhaps it’s premature to react or respond to this critique. But I am rubbed the wrong way not by Drew’s critical assessment of this film in the canon of queer cinema, but by this all or nothing view of media that seems to be developing, particularly within publications like this one. This idea that EVERY piece of content must include the complete spectrum of human life and lived experience because it is queer. That’s simply not possible, for starters, but more importantly, it’s detrimental to storytelling. I’m often so distracted by new projects that seem to care more about checking boxes than conveying earnest and authentic experiences, that I can’t even begin to watch these series/films. For example, The Sex Lives of College Girls, Shrill, or the worst of all, And Just Like That—very different shows but all are trying so desperately to include one of every kind of person and every kind of experience, that it ultimately feels forced, cringey and falls flat. It dilutes stories rather than enriching them.

        I’m a firm believer that every story is not for every person. And I actually really value that about films and tv. I love diving into a film that feels like home for one reason or another, and I can just as easily turn my back on those that don’t. That’s kind of the beauty of media and stories.

        So all is to say, I could care less if a fat person is in a movie or not, if the full spectrum of queer people are in a film or not. I don’t align with the full spectrum of queerness myself, so I’m not always drawn to queer media that doesn’t line up with my vibe and interests. And that’s fine, I’m sure they are wonderful for the people who do align with those stories. And I’m glad they exist in the world none the less.

        But man, I’m deeply tired of this specific type of critique. Stories do NOT need to represent everyone, even if they are queer stories. And it’s unfair to expect that because it is a queer film it must now encompass all of queerness.

        Let’s leave that assessment out of critics.

        • But that’s not my critique at all. I actually agree with you that a poor attempt to include everyone is worse than a specific well-told story.

          My critique is that IF you are going to focus on people (and narratives) we’ve seen a lot then it’s more obvious when you’re work is worse than those other films.

          I gave a glowing review to Girl Picture, another movie at Sundance with a queer love story between two cis white thin girls. Because it was actually good.

          One thing I will say is that even when a film does not include everyone I still think there’s no need to actively exclude people with transphobic language and fat jokes.

          • That’s fair, I see your point that a more “mainstream” well-trodded storyline should be done well if you’re going to bother to invest in it.

            And I also deeply agree that we’re beyond employing any variety of “other” as the butt of the joke for a lazy laugh. That’s always stings.

            Appreciate your thoughtful response and I see what you’re saying.

    • Surely if anything this movie proves you and me are not being erased, most queer media caters to you, me and other cis lesbians. Drew deserves to have her opinion, and you are allowed to disagree but it sucks when people whine about being erased because 100% of the space isn’t being taken up by people like you.

      • It saddens me to see my opinion reducing to whining. The age old way of diminishing a woman’s value by reducing her voice.

        All lived experiences have value and I am not saying Drew’s opinion isn’t value I am saying that by reducing this film to the opinion of, if you like this you are part of the problem.

        It seems as though I would be contributing to the “Terf” agenda if I enjoyed this piece of entertainment.

        I would love for a space to be 100% for me but as I woman I am well aware the likelihood of this happening is very slim.

        We are to get quiet, compliant and happy to just be there.

        • You said you used no disrespectful language but your first comment’s opening sentence is definitely disrespectful. You could have skipped that.

          Also, did you miss the last 3 paragraphs where Drew indeed notes that some people might enjoy the movie, and that’s fine? It’s also fine for us as a community to note when media about us is falling short…I love watching trash reality shows, AND at the same time I can note how they forward harmful stereotypes about plenty of groups. I certainly wouldn’t recommend a friend watch the shows I watch without that context – and with that context, why not enjoy? Both things can exist at once.

          It’s weird that you seem to dislike a critic…being critical. It’s disrespectful that the first thing out of your mouth in response was about that critic’s body. So don’t play the card about “the age old way of diminishing a woman’s value“ when you quite literally started this conversation with trying to reduce a woman’s opinion by commenting on her body.

  10. I’m sorry to say that I lowered my expectations as soon as I knew Dakota Johnson was the lead 😬. I respect your criticism and writing so much bc you have a way of expressing what I am feeling, and you bring receipts!! Seriously you are, imo, the foremost queer cinema expert and I look forward to everything you write, whether I agree or not! ❤️❤️❤️

  11. i agree with basically every part of this review, but somehow this one charmed me anyways. it is truly laughless, but i think i was having such a good time watching it that i just forgot it was even supposed to be a comedy? embarrassingly i watched it twice before my Sundance viewing window ended 😵‍💫

  12. Thanks Drew for reviewing this for me so that I don’t have to watch it. I find most things that Tig Notaro and Stephanie Allyne are in are annoying, mediocre and without entertainment. I was hoping that you may contradict my impression, but nope. Thanks for the heads up.

Contribute to the conversation...

Yay! You've decided to leave a comment. That's fantastic. Please keep in mind that comments are moderated by the guidelines laid out in our comment policy. Let's have a personal and meaningful conversation and thanks for stopping by!