Parenthood has easily cemented itself as the trickiest of life paths, throw into the mix an endless number of curveballs and it can become a minefield of failure and despair – you’ve just got to keep ploughing on though, no matter how hard it gets. That’s exactly the case with Kelley Kali and Angelique Molina’s new independent drama about a mother who has found herself in the trenches of life, and it’s not just her own well-being that she has to care for either. I’m Fine (Thanks for Asking) has shades of Gabriele Muccino’s The Pursuit of Happyness, as the unlucky protagonist battles the trials of life while also managing to keep an authentic aura which masks the film with a pungent aroma.
When the recently widowed Danny (Kelley Kali) becomes homeless, she decides to pitch a tent on the side of the road, so she and her eight-year-old daughter Wes (Wesley Moss) have shelter, masquerading this last resort as a “fun camping trip”. The relationship between mother and daughter is established as soon as the film begins: it’s loving, it feels genuine as well as becoming strained because of the situation they find themselves in. Danny has her sights set on some housing but is short on finances, which leads to a frantic day of whizzing around to hair appointments and completing delivery jobs. How does a single mother with no money manage to traverse the vast lands of southwestern California we hear you ask? By using the most impractical mode of transport ever, a pair of roller skates of course – she might actually be the fastest skater of all time though… how some of that food stays hot is more than impressive.
It really pulls on the heartstrings with its representation of a single parent struggling to cope with the perils of the pandemic while grieving for a loved one. Danny protects her daughter from these harsh realities by creating a fantasy world for themselves, sheltering Wes from sharing this pain. Danny grafts her way through this longest of days by keeping it real and a hardworking mentality, not succumbing to the offers of sexual currency from supposed friends or strangers – it becomes such a key characteristic of Danny’s that she stays strong to her own morals because this is one tough mother.
I’m Fine (Thanks for Asking) might be classified a drama/comedy, but there’s a glaringly obvious lack of humour that makes this far more suited to being a gritty social realist film. The only other character of any note is Danny’s friend Brooklyn (Brooklyn Marie) who becomes the film’s only source of humour; with her bubbly personality, snappy one-liners, and top tier weed smoking abilities – but without making her come across as one-dimensional, she also acts as Danny’s voice of reason of sorts, telling her what she needs to hear but doesn’t want to listen to. Although this film might seem a little bit predictable at times, often falling down a very linear path, there’s enough character and adventure, and certainly enough style to allow this film to flow powerfully over the course of its short runtime that makes it memorable.
The style of the film is its shining glory though, gifting it with an essence of mysticism that lingers throughout. The soundtrack is incredibly precise and meticulous in thought; featuring a mix of songs such as present-day rap and pop, while also consisting of slow and sombre synth-like music for those darker and much deeper moments – the film’s climax marries the melody and image fantastically to create a memorable lasting breath of happiness. But the cinematography is as much of a delight as the music due to its expansiveness. It includes some lovely overhead shots (which, when combined with the sound, become eclectic), or those extremely personal close-ups that highlight Danny’s angst. The variety of the framing is either brilliantly unorthodox or framed like an arthouse portrait that feels almost staged, but done so in a way that looks fluid and natural (remember this when Danny finds herself strangely in a tree and it will all become clear).
The aesthetic and the outcome of I’m Fine (Thanks for Asking) bodes incredibly well for the directing careers of the film’s creators, and if this is the starting point, then whatever lies ahead on this potentially fruitful road is rather exciting. It’s a testament to Kelley that she manages to direct and act so expertly as this supposed rookie of the art; the performance has genuine emotion, and you can’t fake those skating skills either – this could be the beginning of a very promising duo in American independent cinema for sure.
I’m Fine (Thanks for Asking) is in cinemas Friday, March 3rd.