Brandon Dermer’s feature debut, the sci-fi comedy-drama I’m totally fine, presents a natural talent as a filmmaker. It deftly handles multiple genres, demonstrates a knack for working with actors, as well as making clever use of the most minimal locations, and delivers a well-constructed tale in under 80 minutes. Colin Trevorrow achieved a similar feat with Security not ensuredwhich directly led him to lead jurassic world. Dermer’s movie may not be quite as ambitious, but it could still land him a major franchise deal.
Vanessa (Jillian Bell) has just lost her best friend and business partner, Jennifer (Natalie Morales). She doesn’t know how to deal with her grief, so she mindlessly drives to the house where she and Jennifer were supposed to have a party celebrating the success of their business. Unfortunately, Vanessa soon realizes that she forgot to cancel all the arrangements – an energetic caterer basically tells her that she has party – and is now stuck with flamboyant decorations and a wild assortment of food.
The next morning, a hungover Vanessa is shocked to find Jennifer sipping coffee on the couch. “Unfortunately, Jennifer continues and will remain deceased,” the Jennifer lookalike informs. “I am simply an alien who took on her form.” She retained all of Jennifer’s memories. After a brief time of acclimatization, Vanessa is ready to engage with the alien. (“Should we start orientation?” Jennifer asks.)
The alien has its quirks. She drinks olive oil for “protective lubrication”. It absorbs energy, such as battery life, and conducts heat. She can see into the future. His eyebrows harass her. His goal ? A little vague: to study humans. In the next 48 hours, the alien learns a lot about the human condition (although it’s safe to say that Vanessa wouldn’t make it to the top of the candidate list), while Vanessa discovers things about her friend that she did not know before, things that were lied to or deliberately omitted. The duo engage in predictable shenanigans, like car trouble and a molly-tinged dance party with a DJ in a bright jacket (“A little pill with a woman’s name causes elation,” Jennifer comments in her recording device).
“She is kept all the memories of Jennifer and took its form.
Screenwriter Alisha Ketry writes lively dialogue and one-liners for the cast to enjoy. “Do you want a Xanax?” the party planner asks for Vanessa sympathetically from the start. “I’m Emily in Paris!” exclaims a drunk Vanessa trying to get on a bike. Jennifer trying to smile naturally is a fun and recurring joke. (“Don’t suck your bottom lip under your mouth,” Vanessa advises.) Their shared love for Papa Roach marks another highlight.
Dermer keeps a bittersweet tone, a sweet mix of levity and pathos. He studies the complexities of friendships, copes with loss, looks at life as if it were the first time, lives each day as if it is the last, lets go and trusts people more. He asks intriguing questions. What if Jennifer stayed alive? Would they have remained friends?
Bell makes it all believable with her incredulous reactions, and Morales is just wonderful as the alien Jennifer striving to understand humanity. The former portrays an emotional range – as well as its trademark wit – that deepens the narrative, while the latter somehow manages to avoid fantasy, despite the mannerisms and robotic voice acting. As the film focuses solely on the two actors, it’s up to them to drive the narrative through, and they pull it off with aplomb.
“How does it feel to feel all the feelings?” Vanessa asks. A little too sentimental and as light as a feather, I’m totally fine shuns the depth and darkness simmering beneath the surface. Unlike Trevorrow, Dermer seems content with the ingredients he has, not adding much spice to the project. However, difficult not to be charmed by the two impeccable protagonists and all the seriousness. Here’s hoping Dermer goes bankrupt when/if he leads Stormtroopers.