Director Brandon Dermer’s feature-length debut, the sci-fi dramedy I’m Totally Fine, introduces a natural filmmaking talent. He deftly handles multiple genres, demonstrates a knack for working with actors, as well as cleverly utilizing the most minimal locations, and delivers a tightly-constructed tale in under 80 minutes. Colin Trevorrow achieved a similar feat with Safety Not Guaranteed, directly leading to him helming Jurassic World. Dermer’s film may not be quite as ambitious but could nevertheless similarly lead to a major franchise deal.
I’m Totally Fine is about Vanessa (Jillian Bell), who just lost her best friend and business partner, Jennifer (Natalie Morales). She doesn’t know how to deal with the grief, so she mindlessly drives to the house where she and Jennifer were supposed to have a party celebrating their company’s success. Unfortunately, Vanessa soon realizes that she forgot to cancel all the arrangements – a forceful caterer basically tells her she has to party – and is now stuck with flamboyant decorations and a wild assortment of food.
The next morning, a hungover Vanessa is shocked to discover Jennifer sipping coffee on the couch. “Unfortunately, Jennifer continues and will continue to remain deceased,” the Jennifer lookalike informs. “I am simply an extraterrestrial who has taken her form.” The alien retained all of Jennifer’s memories. After a brief moment of acclimation, Vanessa is ready to engage with the alien. The alien has her quirks. She chugs olive oil for “protective lubrication.” She absorbs energy, like battery life, and conducts heat. She can see into the future. Her eyebrows pester her. Her goal? Somewhat vague: to study humans.
Within the ensuing 48 hours, the alien learns much about the human condition (although one could argue Vanessa wouldn’t be on anyone’s top of that candidate list), while Vanessa finds out things about her friend that she didn’t know before, things that were lied about or purposefully omitted. The duo gets themselves into predictable shenanigans, like car trouble and a molly-tinged dance party with a DJ in a glowing jacket (“Tiny pill with woman’s name causes elation,” Jennifer comments into her recording device).
“The alien retained all of Jennifer’s memories and assumed her form.”
Screenwriter Alisha Ketry writes lively dialogue and one-liners for the cast to relish throughout I’m Totally Fine. “Would you like a Xanax?” the party planner asks Vanessa sympathetically early on. “I’m Emily in Paris!” an inebriated Vanessa exclaims, trying to get on a bike. Jennifer attempting to smile naturally is an amusing reoccurring joke. “Don’t suck your bottom lip under your mouth,” Vanessa advises. Their shared love for Papa Roach marks another highlight.
Dermer maintains a bittersweet tone, a gentle mix of levity and pathos. He studies the complexities of friendships, dealing with loss, looking at life as if for the first time, living each day as if it were your last, letting go, and trusting people more. He poses some intriguing questions. What if Jennifer stayed alive? Would they have remained friends?
Bell makes it all believable with her incredulous reactions. Morales is simply wonderful as the alien striving to understand humanity. The former portrays an emotional gamut, as well as her trademark wit, that deepens the narrative, while the latter somehow manages to steer clear of whimsy, despite the mannerisms and robotic voice. As the film focuses solely on the two actors, it’s up to them to carry the narrative to its conclusion, and they succeed with aplomb.
“How does it feel to feel all the feelings?” Vanessa asks. A bit too sentimental and as light as a feather, I’m Totally Fine avoids the depth and darkness that simmer beneath the surface. Unlike Trevorrow, Dermer seems content with the ingredients he’s got, failing to add much spice to the project. Yet it’s difficult not to be charmed by the two impeccable leads and all the earnestness. Here’s hoping Dermer goes for broke when/if he’s directing Stormtroopers.
"…difficult not to be charmed by the two impeccable leads..."