When someone insists they’re “fine,” it’s seldom the case. Take Danny, the recently widowed mom in the micro-budget charmer “I’m Fine (Thanks for Asking),” which directors Kelley Kali and Angelique Molina’s made with coronavirus stimulus checks (among other limited funds).
Having lost her apartment during the COVID-19 crunch, Danny roller skates around a neighborhood of housing projects, fast-food joints and quasi-suburban homes trying to rustle enough gig economy scraps to pay rent and security on a new apartment. A visit to her presumptive — and understanding — landlord leaves her until the end of the day to secure the $200 she’s short.
Danny also skates around her and daughter Wes’ predicament. She’s evasive around friends and tells her bright and shining child (newcomer Wesley Moss) that the tent they’ve pitched on the edges of Pacoima, Calif., is just them on an extended camping trip. After all, Wes liked camping with her dad, so “isn’t this fun?”
It’s not, of course. They’re unhoused and with that comes stress and no small measure of shame. Once Danny they emerge from the field where their tent is hidden and Danny drops Wes off at the sitter’s, she is off and skating.
“I’m Fine” teases the structure of comedies in which something must be achieved in too short a span. Only, instead of ha-ha challenges, Danny encounters the poignant, the frustrating, even the perilous.
First, she tracks down her hair-braiding clients — doing their plaits in backyards, masks on. When that isn’t as gainful as she needs it to be, she delivers food for a Door Dash-style app. It’s all a little mad dash. Kali has an awareness of what can-do desperation looks like, while providing her character some serious skate skills. Cinematographer Becky BaiHui Chen keeps things fluid and brightly hued.
The directors, their crew and ensemble do sweet work capturing the weight of a moment that has most everyone stretched thin. Kali — winner of a 2018 Student Academy Award for her short “Lalo’s House,” about two Haitian sisters abducted into a human trafficking ring — and Molina seem genuinely moved by the pressures the pandemic exerted on folks. (Still does.) Their benevolence infuses “I’m Fine.”
Danny’s needs are dire, but her babysitter (Dominique Molina) needs her money, too. When one of Danny’s clients comes up short, it’s not karma so much as a sharp insight into Pandemic Econ 101. The lesson continues when Danny stops by a barber shop that doubles as a pawn shop, hoping to hawk a bracelet. Instead, the shop owner (played with an undercurrent of kindness by Ira Scipio) makes an offer on Danny’s wedding band.
Brooklynn Marie provides a spirited respite as Kali’s blunt friend, who offers a thick blunt and plenty of advice. A cleverly shot, weed-induced sequence provides a smartly imagined pause in Danny’s harried saga. Music by Erick Del Aguila and Jarrett Woo adds a counterpoint to her building worry.
Comedian Deon Cole makes an intentionally funny-ish appearance as a dodgy dude in a sleek black Porsche. The actor from “Black-ish and “Grown-ish” is a producer and executive producer on the film.
There aren’t really baddies here. A misread by a friend of Danny’s husband (Andrew Galvan) seems more sad than dishonorable. Even the most dangerous encounter has an underlying rationale.
If Danny’s skating at first seems a bit of a non-sequitur (and so dang exhausting), it’s worth remembering that the movie was shot in 2020 and the skating feels like an elegant low-budget, safety-first solution, one that also adds to the protagonist’s unique journey. Danny’s skating as fast as she can. And the film’s makers are clear she’s not alone in that. She trying to transform surviving into thriving. She’s not alone in that, either.