A small-scale drama I’m Fine (Thanks For Asking) (2021) approaches the pandemic times with subtlety, with no traces of shallowness or artificiality. It’s funny, directed in a close-to-mockumentary style, and fiercely led by Kelley Kali’s heartfelt performance.
The many faces of the post-pandemic life were stories filled with loss, grief, and uncertainty. After all, this was one of the most unexpected tragedies of our times. In the case of Danny (Kelley Kali), the protagonist of I’m Fine (Thanks For Asking) (2021), the pandemic kicked her out of her place and sentenced her to live in a tent with her daughter Wes (Wesley Moss). The game of pretending that this is just a camping trip cannot last forever though, and Danny decides to find them a new place to live.
After eyeing one apartment, Danny finds herself $200 short and manages to get one day until someone else moves in. As one may suspect, this won’t be an easy-peasy job. Although Danny’s daily schedule was filled with appointments, all the plans go south pretty early on. Here begins the journey, in which Danny channels her efforts to get the remaining sum – the price of her better future.
I’m Fine (Thanks For Asking) (2021) introduces the pandemic times nuances with subtlety. The protagonist hustles through the day by doing things we experienced in a different light – such as the boom of food delivery or hairdresser’s service done outside, door-to-door. And every time she responds “I’m fine” to the question “how are you“, it only reveals more pain.
At the same time, the directing duo Angelique Molina and Kelley Kali keep the pandemic as the color of the background for their narrative. It’s not distorted to evoke soppy moments but serves as the natural habitat in which we all have to live now. Such an approach is powerful, and guarantees that I’m Fine (Thanks For Asking) (2021) works outside of the new reality too, thus making all more relatable. Furthermore, we don’t see any antagonists, and the surrounding world isn’t keen on Danny’s ultimate bane. On the contrary, this is life at its earnest – cloudy with a chance of sunshine.
That ray of sunshine is Kelley Kali, the beating heart of the film. Danny earns our sympathy right away, and effortlessly. No matter what happens, she remains dedicated to her goal of scraping enough money to secure a roof over her daughter’s head. In spite of the constantly worsening developments of the day, it seems that nothing can beat the roller skating hero. Kali keeps her wide, charming grin at all times, used to cover the boiling pot of emotions underneath. And you do feel it’s heavy as hell.
Witty writing constitutes another solid foundation for I’m Fine (Thanks For Asking) (2021). While the story remains largely simplistic – a Greek tragedy set against suburban areas, fast food joints, and projects – writers Angelique Molina, Roma Kong, and Kelley Kali find their strength in the dialogues. Smoothly sailing between one encounter and another, Danny’s one-day adventure feels authentic, and it’s humorous without the need for the writers to come up with some unimaginable obstacles standing in the way too. On many occasions, I felt that the trio kept the modern classics of American indies – The Florida Project (2017) and Moonlight (2016) – close to their chests.
Setting all seriousness aside, I’m Fine (Thanks For Asking) (2021) isn’t the kind of movie that will make your stomach ache from laughter though. A few blissful comedic moments do arrive – and these originate from the paradoxes created in the pandemic – like my favorite moment when Danny gets one-starred in a food delivery app after being “Karened” by a customer. Yet Molina and Kali keep drama afloat at all times, so in every smile, there’s bitterness too.
I also thoroughly enjoyed the work of DP Becky Baihui Chen, which brings the Mid 90s (2018) to mind. Both these films owe visual flair to their subject matter. As was the case with Jonah Hill’s tale about a growing skateboard talent, roller skating is embedded in the DNA of this I’m Fine (Thanks For Asking) (2021). Furthermore, it’s smartly used to emphasize the physical toll that this one day has on the protagonist. You know it gets hard when Danny finally takes them off – almost like a symbolic act of the hardship she experiences.
Unlike its mediocre-at-best kin How It Ends (2021), Molina and Kali’s movie relies on the power of powerful storytelling, and not on the notion of “hey, we made a movie during COVID-19, so it’s relatable”. As far as the pandemic-themed films go, I’m Fine (Thanks For Asking) (2021) has finally given me a reason to believe that great stories about these strange times can be found.
Read more reviews from Bentonville Film Festival 2021