AFF Review: ‘I’m Fine (Thanks for Asking)’ is life on a razor’s edge

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AFF Review: ‘I’m Fine (Thanks for Asking)’ is life on a razor’s edge
Courtesy photo Kelley Kali as widowed, single mother Danny in "I'm Fine (Thanks for Asking)," which took home the Best of Fest award.
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By Cody Mello-Klein | [email protected]

At one point in directors Kelley Kali and Angelique Molina’s pandemic-era drama “I’m Fine (Thanks for Asking),” single mother Danny, also played by Kali, falls face first into a pothole filled with water.

In a film full of trials and tribulations for Danny, who is just trying to get the last $200 for a down payment on an apartment to get her and her lively daughter Wes (Wesley Moss) off the streets, it’s just another twist of fate. Except instead of her face hitting the ground, Danny’s entire body falls through the pothole and into a dark, bottomless pool of water. As Danny looks around in disbelief, her money and possessions float away. She is sinking.

This is the only fantasy sequence in “I’m Fine (Thanks for Asking),” but it feels shockingly real. It is the perfect visual metaphor for what many Americans experienced during the pandemic. Kali and Molina’s directorial eyes are finely attuned to the ways that, for many people, for the last two years – and even before then – life has been balanced on a razor’s edge.

A widow and mother of one, Danny carries a lot on her shoulders throughout the course of the all-in-a-day events that transpire during the film. Danny and Wes have been camping out on the side of a road in Los Angeles – Danny has been telling Wes they are just camping – and saving up money to get back into her apartment. To earn some cash, she works as a traveling hairdresser and delivery person for a Postmates-like app, roller skating from one job to the next.

Although the roller skates seem at first like a cinematic affectation, they are vital to establishing the nonstop hustle that is Danny’s life. She’s always on the move, never slowing down even as she hits one snag after another. The cascading series of events, of cancelled appointments, missed opportunities and belligerent customers, that Danny experiences is exhausting, but effectively so. Kali and Molina are keenly aware of how when you’re skating the poverty line, the smallest interactions can make or break you. The directors are also well aware of how those interactions impact Danny as both a woman and woman of color.

Directed by Kali and Molina and shot by director of photography Becky Baihui Chen, “I’m Fine (Thanks for Asking)” captures the vibrancy and oppressive heat of L.A. and its surrounding environs. Even as Danny zips by her surroundings, there is a defined sense of place that grounds Danny and her community. Much of that comes down to the script, written by Kali, Molina and Roma King, which is never afraid to give personality to characters like barber and gold dealer Bobby (Ira Scipio) who may only show up in a couple of scenes but are given enough life and personality to warrant more.

The uniformly excellent cast is made up almost entirely of actors of color. Moss shines bright as the apple of Danny’s eye, Scipio projects enough natural charm and warmth to fill his character’s empty barbershop and Marie is hilarious as Danny’s best friend. Deon Cole, known for his standup comedy and role on “Black-ish,” is a producer on the film and makes a funny, slightly menacing appearance.

But Kali is the star of the show. She is at the center of every frame, and as Danny, she exudes desperation, exasperation and exhaustion at almost every turn but never loses track of Danny’s humor and charisma. In her conversations with friends like Brooklynn (Brooklynn Marie), we see warmth but always through a shield Danny has built up in order to protect herself. It’s a shield deployed with two words: “I’m fine.”

It’s not until the final moments of the film, in a scene so plain yet emotionally potent that it’s not worth spoiling, that we see just how much the events of the last day have impacted Danny – and just how much a bed and a place to stay are worth.

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