Grief, Friendship, And Aliens: An Interview With ‘I’m Totally Fine’ Writer, Alisha Ketry
by Rachel Bellwoar
Vanessa (Jillian Bell) is supposed to be celebrating the signing of a distribution deal on the organic soda she made with her best friend. Instead, Jennifer (Natalie Morales) is dead and Vanessa is in the house they rented for the party by herself, when an alien shows up who’s the splitting image of Jennifer. Directed by Brandon Dermer, with a screenplay by Alisha Ketry, I’m Totally Fine might not be how Vanessa is feeling but maybe talking to the alien Jennifer will help. It certainly was a pleasure to talk Ketry about the film.
Rachel Bellwoar: Where did the idea to tell a story about grief through extraterrestrials come from?
Alisha Ketry: The director, Brandon Dermer, and I were discussing how 2020 was the year of collective grief. Plans and projects were canceled, weddings were canceled, and many people experienced extreme loss. We were really feeling the grief ourselves and wanted a way to express that. The alien aspect was Brandon’s initial idea, and we’re both huge fans of sci-fi, so it felt like a way in that was both entertaining and meaningful for us.
Bellwoar: Initially, was the story ever supposed to be about just grief (or vice versa – just about aliens)?
AK: The story was always about grief and always about aliens. We never questioned whether it should be anything else.
Bellwoar: Were there any script changes that came about after the casting of Natalie Morales and Jillian Bell?
AK: Yes! This was an extremely collaborative set, and when any of us felt something wasn’t right, we would sit together and find the best path forward. A lot of the changes were based on the character Natalie found in Jennifer. We would tweak dialogue together to make sure it fit her voice. I’ll always respect and appreciate that we were able to have that kind of experience, especially knowing that writers are often not even on set for shooting. I feel very lucky and proud to have been a part of that.
Bellwoar: What made you want to open the story up to include other characters?
AK: We wanted to have other characters enter Vanessa’s world as a reminder that life continues on even when you’re suffering greatly. I think for Vanessa, she wishes she could just stay in a moment frozen in time and not have to deal with anything else, but that’s not how life works. These people are there to help Vanessa gain perspective.
Bellwoar: While Jennifer is on Earth to learn about humans, we do learn a little about her planet as well. Was it difficult to gauge how much to tell and how much to leave a secret?
AK: We always wanted to leave it open ended about life on her planet. We wanted the conversation to be around Vanessa and her journey through grief. I think exploring more of Jennifer’s home planet would have potential to complicate a story that already has a big premise.
Bellwoar: One of the things we never learn is Jennifer’s real name. Was that an intentional choice, and do you have a name chosen?
AK: In my mind, her name is in some alien language we don’t even have the tools to form out loud as humans. Maybe it’s just a sound, or a thought, or an idea. Or maybe it’s Donna. We like to keep it open ended.
Bellwoar: What does organic soda taste like, and would you recommend it?
AK: The movie tells us that Two Rings organic soda has ginger, cardamom and no grass. So I’m guessing it tastes like that, and heck yes, I recommend it! Go drink some organic soda while you watch I’m Totally Fine!
Bellwoar: Thanks for agreeing to this interview, Alisha!
I’m Totally Fine will be in Theaters, On Demand and Digital on November 4, 2022.