January 2, 2023
by Carla Hay
Directed by Brandon Dermer
Culture Representation: Taking place in various parts of the U.S., the sci-fi comedy film “I’m Totally Fine” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few Latinos and Asians) representing the working-class and middle-class.
Culture Clash: Not long after her best friend/business partner dies, a 36-year-old woman finds out that an alien from outer space has embodied the form of her dead best friend.
Culture Audience: “I’m Totally Fine” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of stars Jillian Bell, Natalie Morales, and independent films that try too hard to be offbeat comedies but are actually quite dull.
“I’m Totally Fine” is a one-note slog masquerading as a quirky comedy for people who think this type of independent film automatically deserves praise. The entire movie has this self-congratulatory, repetitive tone: “You’re supposed to laugh because this is a low-budget film starring fairly well-known actresses who’ve been in much better comedies, so their filmographies should make this movie funny too.” Spoiler alert: “I’m Totally Fine” is not funny.
The movie’s very thin plot gets stretched to the point where it breaks, and it goes from tedious sarcasm to sentimental mush. None of the movie’s emotional tone looks genuine or natural, despite the efforts of the co-stars, and it’s only made worse by the movie’s sluggish pacing. “I’m Totally Fine” (directed by Brandon Dermer and written by Alisha Ketry) looks like the type of movie that was made with an unfinished screenplay, with the hope that the cast members would be able to make goofy facial expressions and do some improvisation, in an attempt to make the movie interesting.
“I’m Totally Fine” (which takes place in various parts of the U.S., but you can tell that the movie was filmed in a limited part of California) is essentially about how a 36-year-old business entrepreneur named Vanessa (played by Jillian Bell) reacts when she finds out that an outer space alien (played by Natalie Morales) has shapeshifted into appearing as her dead best friend Jennifer Martinez, who has died less than a week ago. (It’s mentioned in the movie that Jennifer has not been buried yet.) The alien tells Vanessa that the alien has taken on a human form so that the alien can learn more about what it feels like to be human.
Vanessa and Jennifer co-founded a start-up company that makes organic soda drinks. They had just landed a distribution deal to have the soda sold in stores nationwide. And then, Jennifer died. (Her cause of death is not mentioned in the movie.) Vanessa has traveled alone by car to spend some time by herself to grieve at the house where Jennifer and Vanessa had planned to hold a celebration party because of the distribution deal.
Vanessa is surprised when employees of the event planning company that was hired for the party show up at the house to set up the party. There’s some haggling back and forth, because Jennifer was the one who signed the contract with this event planning company. The party planner in charge is named Susan (played by Karen Maruyama), and she informs Vanessa that Jennifer was legally the only one who could cancel the contract, if she did so with at least 24 hours notice. But, of course, Jennifer is dead, and there’s some arguing over whether or not Vanessa can cancel the contract. She can’t cancel, so the party is set up anyway.
It’s just an excuse for the movie to show grieving Vanessa alone at the house with plenty of alcohol. She gets drunk, of course. And so, when Vanessa sees the alien who looks exactly like Jennifer, the first reaction from Vanessa is to think that it’s just a drunken hallucination. But the next day, a hungover Vanessa again sees the Jennifer look-alike alien, who calmly hands Vanessa a cup of coffee. And this time, Vanessa thinks she’s having some kind of mental breakdown.
The alien tells in a robotic voice: “I know this is an odd encounter. My appearance resembles your perished companion. Unfortunately, Jennifer continues and will continue to be deceased. I am simply an extraterrestrial who has taken her form.” The space alien also calls itself a “species observation officer” who mission is to observe how humans live and how resilient they are.
The Jennifer look-alike alien expects Vanessa to give her a crash course on being human in “orientation sessions.” Vanessa finds out that this alien has some unusual quirks: The alien gets easily dehydrated by the sun, so the alien guzzles olive oil to keep hydrated.
The alien also says that its native planet consists of lightning, and the beings from this planet need a certain energy source: “We absorb the battery life of anything around us that has a battery life. We also absorb heat.” You can easily predict what happens to Vanessa’s cell phone when she needs it, or what happens when Vanessa and the alien decide to go on a road trip together in Vanessa’s car when they’re on a deserted road.
Expect to see a lot of “odd couple” clichés with grumpy and jaded Vanessa and the upbeat and naïve Jennifer look-alike alien. The movie has a small number of people in the cast, so most of the screen time is focused on these two characters. Vanessa has a musician boyfriend named Eric (played by Blake Anderson), who is concerned about Vanessa’s well-being and checks in with her occasionally by phone. During the road trip, the two travelers encounter an unnamed scruffy weirdo (played by Kyle Newacheck), who does what unnamed scruffy weirdos do in “trying too hard to be cool” movies like “I’m Totally Fine.”
There’s also some time-wasting nonsense about Vanessa, Jennifer and Jennifer’s younger sister Megan (voiced by Cyrina Fiallo, in a phone conversation) being fans of the rock band Papa Roach when they were teenagers. Vanessa gets jealous because she finds out all these years later that Megan and Jennifer went to see Papa Roach in concert for the first time, one year before Jennifer and Vanessa saw the band in concert. Jennifer had lied to Vanessa and told her that the Papa Roach concert that Jennifer went to with Vanessa was Jennifer’s first Papa Roach concert experience.
Vanessa gets so upset about this lie, it makes viewers think that even though Vanessa is 36, she has the emotional maturity of someone who’s 16. The movie runs this dull Papa Roach subplot into the ground. It should come as no surprise when a flamboyant party DJ named DJ Twisted Bristle (played by Harvey Guillén) shows up at the house, Papa Roach’s 2000 song “Last Resort” (the band’s breakthrough hit) is played, so Vanessa can teach the alien how to let loose at a party. Yes, this scene really is as stupid as it sounds. There’s some predictable drinking and drugging in this scene too.
Bell’s portrayal of Vanessa goes back and forth between trying to look like a grief-stricken person who’s rude and impatient to someone who’s whiny, spoiled brat who needs an alien to teach her how to get in touch with her sensitive side again. There are a few moments of juvenile-minded comedy that might give viewers some mild laughs, in the way that people might laugh at outdated jokes. Morales’ space alien performance is a weak imitation of the Coneheads. It quickly gets tiresome.
“I’m Totally Fine” wasted an opportunity to make the story concept into an amusing and edgy film. Instead, the movie is filled with idiotic scenarios and lackluster dialogue. For example, at one point in the movie, Vanessa says, “I am a strong, powerful woman, and I am perfectly capable of handling my mental breakdown,” as if it’s supposed to be a clever comedic moment.
“I’m Totally Fine” forces in some tearjearker scenes in the film’s last 15 minutes. It’s just a cheap ploy to make the movie look like it’s trying to convey “meaningful messages about life and humanity.” But by then, it’s too late, because this contrived human-alien friendship is as fake as an alien shapeshifter’s body disguise.
Decal released “I’m Totally Fine” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on November 4, 2022.