• Festivals

Sundance 2022: Cinema Café Series – “Am I Ok?” and “Alice”

As part of the Sundance Film Festival Cinema Café series, Dakota Johnson joined Keke Palmer in a panel discussion about their latest projects. Speaking via Zoom, Johnson says of her two films, Cha Cha Real Smooth, and Am I Ok? 

“These are the first two movies from my production company (TeaTime Pictures). Both of them were shot during the pandemic that we’re still in. The first one we made, Am I Ok? is a comedy directed by married couple Tig Notaro and Stephanie Allynne. 

Am I Ok? is about a woman coming out in her thirties, coupled with a female friendship narrative. Johnson stars opposite Sonoya Mizuno (Ex Machina) in this coming-of-age/coming-out story written by Lauren Pomerantz (Ellen Degeneres’ longtime writer on her former daytime talk show). 

Johnson’s other film, Cha Cha Real Smooth is helmed by 24-year-old actor/director Cooper Raiff. “He made a movie called Shithouse that won South by Southwest a few years ago and he made it for zero dollars,” Johnson says proudly.  “And in Cha Cha Real Smooth he wrote, directed, edited and stars. He’s an annoyingly gifted person,” she laughs. “It’s rare to find a young man who’s so soulful.” 

The film is about a college grad (Raiff) who takes a job as a bar mitzvah party starter while forming a friendship with a young mother (Johnson) of an autistic daughter whom he eventually works for as a babysitter. It also stars Leslie Mann, Brad Garrett, Vanessa Burghardt and Evan Assante. 

Palmer stars in Alice, a thriller/horror movie about an enslaved woman who flees from a Georgia plantation to discover she’s in the wrong century. Her life turns upside down when she discovers she is not living in the 1800s, but in fact, the year is 1973. She must grapple with modern life and all that, that entails as well as understand the concept of freedom. 

Making her feature film debut, the film is written and directed by Krystin Ver Linden and also stars Johnny Lee Miller and Common.

Palmer notes, “It’s interesting that people keep calling it a thriller. To me, it’s more a fish out of water, self-discovery film,” she says. Evidently, making Alice was a personal journey for Palmer. “It challenged me in a way. It’s personal because it was dipping back into the past in terms of my ancestors and the horrors of black American history. That was obviously challenging to be able to step in that space and not allow it to bog me down,” she says. “Alice was also very empowering. I think more than anything with Alice, I was very much in a fighter mindset. I was in survival mode, very much so.”

Survivors of a different kind, both Johnson and Palmer began their Hollywood careers very young. Palmer made her acting debut in Barbershop 2: Back to Business, which she shot when she was 9-years old. She followed up in roles in Akeelah and the Bea, and Madea’s Family Reunion, both in 2006. Other roles include The Longshots (2008), Shrink (2009), Scream Queens (2015 to 2016), Berlin Station (2017 – 2019) and Scream (2019), and Hustlers (2019). She also received a Primetime Emmy Award for her roles in the series Keke Palmer’s Turnt Up with the Taylors, in 2020.

“When it comes to child actors, you need to be very careful of the kinds of roles you choose because everything mushes into the idea of who you are deciding to be, subconsciously, because you don’t know who you are yet,” Palmer says. “You don’t have a clear concept of identity. So, the roles you play influence you wildly and I’m very grateful that my parents were so protective because most of the roles that I played, which were obviously very specifically chosen by my mother at that time [because I was a kid], were very empowering stories.”

Johnson, the former Miss Golden Globe 2006, is, of course, the daughter of Melanie Griffith and Don Johnson. She began her career in 1999, at the age of ten, in Crazy in Alabama, directed by her then stepfather, Antonio Banderas.  

“I played my mom’s daughter, but then I didn’t work again until I was 18. My parents didn’t want me to be involved in movies,” she explains. “But I wanted to work, and I was desperate to be on set. I wanted to make movies so badly.” She shrugs. “I grew up on set and I was always on locations with my parents. So once I graduated from school, I started auditioning and got some jobs.”

Johnson is known for her starring role in the franchise, Fifty Shades (2015-2018) and has starred in other movies including A Bigger Splash (2015), Bad Times at the El Royale (2018), The Peanut Butter