Tig Notaro is a Filmmaker, Too
Reviewing Notaro’s debut ‘Am I OK?’ and other stand-out titles from the virtual Sundance Film Festival
The Sundance Film Festival’s award winners will screen from Thursday, Jan 27 through Sunday, Jan. 30. Go to festival.sundance.org for more info.
Tig Notaro is one of a handful of multi-hyphenate entertainers who I’ll follow wherever she goes, an inimitable stand-up comedian who, it turns out, is also a talented memoirist, can do radio, can act, can write and produce TV like the gem “One Mississippi,” and can manage to be the subject of an extremely personal documentary (“Tig”) with grace.
Taking on a feature-length movie as co-director, with her wife Stephanie Allynne, sure, she can do that.
Notaro and Allynne’s debut, “Am I OK?” – which premiered at the virtual Sundance Film Festival this week – is an empathetically imagined mix of comedy and drama about Lucy, played with absorbing complexity by Dakota Johnson, finally figuring out at age 32 that she is gay.
Lucy’s realization comes as her lifelong best friend Jane (Sonoya Mizuno) decides to take a job in London, abandoning the familiar neighborhood rituals that she and Lucy have settled into in Los Angeles (Jane can recite Lucy’s lunch order at the diner).
Propelled by a crackling screenplay by Lauren Pomerantz, “Am I OK?” is, gratefully, not simply a coming out narrative and is not another story about a gay character overcoming shame or intolerance. Instead, it’s about an inner journey and it’s about uncertainty (it’s true, you can still make movies that trust the audience’s intelligence enough to work in shades of grey).
As it moves along, “Am I OK?” turns out not so much to be about Lucy’s sexuality – it’s about a friendship that hits rocky ground, but not because Jane is queer. It gets rocky because friendships are messy and this film wants us to think about the intricacies of female friendship.
The tentativeness and fear at the core of Lucy are played by a perfectly calibrated Johnson, a Woody Creeker who is in the midst of what may be a career redefining run of roles this season between “The Lost Daughter,” “Am I OK?” and “Cha Cha Real Smooth” (also premiering at Sundance this week).
The tone of “Am I OK?” moves nimbly from serious to silly. The film includes a handful of inspired comedic set pieces that’ll make you hope Notaro and Allynne direct more comedies – Lucy and Jane going to a new studio for hot yoga, for instance, and Lucy’s trip to a new age-y hammock retreat in the woods (with an incredible absurdist cameo from Notaro that is worth the price of admission in itself).
Most people will see “Am I OK?” on a small screen, on whatever streaming platform picks it up out of the festival, and I hope a lot of people get to see it. But I also wished it looked more cinematic. The filmmaking is almost distractingly unambitious, shot in a flat digital style that made me grateful I wasn’t watching on a big screen in Park City.
Based on the true story of a disgruntled Iraq war vet who took hostages in an Atlanta area bank, “892” is the latest in a new micro-genre: the COVID-staged drama that embraces the limits of the pandemic and births a tour de force performance (it would make a nice double feature with the 911 dispatch drama “The Guilty”). John Boyega plays Brian Easley, the hostage taker, with a mesmerizing intensity and humanity. The late great Michael K. Williams, in a final film role that makes you wish there were more to come, plays a hostage negotiator who bonds with Easley over the phone.
Sundance horror is a brand unto itself after standout midnight premieres of recent years like “The Witch” and “Hereditary,” arty genre takes that are weird and ugly and worth the stress of watching them. “Hatching,” from Finland, may be the 2022 entrant in the genre, an absurd and disturbing tale of what happens when an eager to please tween (Siiri Solalinna) has a massive egg hatch in her bedroom as she tries her best to please her perfectionist, vlogger mom. There is some scathing social commentary here, hitting some easy targets and some fresh ones, about online culture and 21st century parenting, but there’s also just some fantastic old-school Fangoria gross-out gags (be warned, the animatronic bird will appear in your dreams and it will not be pleasant).
‘The Worst Person in the World’
Director Joachim Trier’s latest, about a young woman stumbling through relationships and career paths and trying to figure out how to live now, showed in the Spotlight section of Sundance, which showcases films that’ve already been at other festivals. “The Worst Person” debuted at Cannes, where Renate Reinsve won best actress, and has been hailed at most every festival since – including Aspen Film’s Academy Screenings – and landed on many Top 10 lists at the end of the year. Finally due for a public U.S. release in February, it lives up to the hype of the past year, giving us a bleak vision of romantic comedy or a comedic take on tragedy, depending on your view, in one of the funniest, realest and most imaginative looks at the millennial in adulthood.
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