I’m Fine (Thanks For Asking). Photo: Courtesy SFFILM Credit: SFFILM

I won’t be surprised if I’m Fine (Thanks For Asking) ends up a prizewinner at this year’s San Francisco International Film Festival. Written and directed by Kelley Kali and Angelique Molina, it’s the best Festival entry I’ve seen so far — an even more impressive accomplishment considering it was produced in the middle of a pandemic, seamlessly weaving masking and social distancing into its story. With the Festival wrapping up on Sunday April 18, there are only a few days left in which to stream I’m Fine, so don’t sleep on it.

Co-director Kali also appears in front of the camera as Danny, a single mother sleeping rough with eight year-old daughter Wes (Wesley Moss) in the scrublands bordering Pacoima, California. Left at loose ends by the unexpected death of husband and father Sam, Kali earns a meager living braiding hair and delivering fast food.

She’s also been lying to Wes about their current circumstances: too proud to admit they have nowhere to go, Danny has told her daughter they’re on a camping trip but will be going home shortly — wherever that may be. A lead on an apartment has Danny’s hopes up, but she’s $200 short on the deposit and, has until nightfall to pay up —  or landlord Mr. Yu (Xing-Mai Deng) will run out of patience and rent it to someone else.

Spending her day roller skating from braiding appointment to braiding appointment and from burger delivery to burger delivery, the determined Danny contends with customers who can’t pay for her services and others who give her a one-star rating for a mistake the burger joint made on their order. Chance encounters along the way allow her to re-connect with old friends Jacob (Andrew Galvan) and Brooklynn (BK Marie), though not always with happy results — and as the sun begins to set, she’s still a little short on the money front. Something has to give, and Danny is forced to choose between maintaining her pride and keeping the promise she’s made to Wes about putting a roof over their heads.

Shot in the Southland’s hot, sunny San Fernando Valley, I’m Fine (Thanks For Asking) is no one-note condemnation of the gig economy. Kali and Molina’s screenplay deftly balances the often harsh realities of pandemic life with a bracing shot of old-fashioned California ‘can-do’ optimism, all the while acknowledging Danny’s desperation. Though doggedly believing something good will turn up, she bravely wears a mask of enthusiasm to avoid disappointing or frightening Wes, who dreams of acquiring a fan to tame the Valley’s relentless heat.

Shot primarily with a female crew and cast, this is an assured second feature for Kali, whose previous effort – The Adventures of Thomasina Sawyer – was a collaborative student project at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts. But don’t worry, guys: you also have representation in I’m Fine, which features a couple of terrific character turns from Ira Scipio and Deon Cole as, respectively, a barbershop owner with a heart of gold and Brooklynn’s overbearing wealthy boyfriend Chad.

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Freelancer John Seal is Berkeleyside’s film critic. A movie connoisseur with a penchant for natty hats who lives in Oakland, John writes a weekly film recommendation column at Box...