Not Okay, the new film from Quinn Shephard, is a dark comedy that also has something to say about social media influencers.
Let’s get one thing out of the way first: there is nothing funny about terrorist attacks or school shootings. Quinn Shephard just happens to find the funny in the most absurd of situations: a wannabe influencer, Danni Sanders (Zoey Deutch) who pretends to be in Paris just before there is a major terrorist attack. What does she do next? Take advantage of the sympathy to her benefit. She just happens to befriend a survivor while attending a support group so as to take advantage of their pain. Shephard’s script doesn’t ignore the seriousness of the situation. There’s a point in the film where fireworks are going off during the I’ve Had Enough rally. This allows us to see PTSD showing in its entirety.
Danni Sanders works at Depravity as a photo editor and aspiring writer. She’s at a low point in her life. Other than wanting to write, she’s not really friends with anyone at work. Her love life is non-existent. After hearing another colleague discuss a writer’s retreat, she fakes one of her own. Only, as mentioned before, it’s in Paris right as a terrorist attack hits the city. Mind you, she’s still posting from her Bushwick apartment but all of her family starts checking in on her. This forces her to go all in on the big lie. A photo with her dad at the airport goes viral. She ends up going on TV. Worst of all is when she decides to take advantage of actual trauma survivor Rowan (Mia Isaac). Of course, she becomes friends with influencer Colin (Dylan O’Brien), which is what she wanted from the start.
Through attending trauma support groups, writing about her “experience,” and befriending Rowan, one would think that Danni would grow. It’s not too long before some co-workers–cough Harper (Nadia Alexander) cough–suspect there’s more than meets the eye. If you’re living a lie, maybe take your laptop with you at all times so nosy colleagues won’t go snooping around. In the end, Danni deserves all the online shame that she gets in her direction. There is Trump’s Big Lie and then there’s Danni’s big lie. She had it coming from the very moment that she decided to fake being at a Paris sight just before someone shot up the place.
Most of the film’s comedy comes from what it has to say about social media influencer culture. How far are people willing to go if it means becoming famous? Some people, like Rowan, just happen to have fame thrust upon them. Others, like our unlikable protagonist, want the fame for themselves no matter what cost. The internet can be a dark place and G-d only knows how much doomscrolling is possible. The major characters here are all using the internet for their own means, some for better or worse. Watching this film does leave some food for thought. When a school shooting or terrorist attack happens, maybe it’s time to just follow the news and not tweet about the latest meal or interview. Sometimes, there really is a wrong time.
But back to Danni, her character gets “cancelled” but it’s more like being held accountable. It should not be labeled as cancel culture but holding people accountable for their actions. That’s what people are seeking of Danni Sanders. This isn’t to say that it’s without all the misogyny because oh, is it ever. Just pause every time a tweet pops up on screen because almost all of them are toxic. We’ve let conservatives frame it as “cancel culture” when they refuse to accept responsibility for their own actions.
I’ve enjoyed watching Zoey Deutch become a star over the past few years. At this point in her career, she is more than just Howard Deutch and Lea Thompson’s daughter–she is a star in her own right. I’m not even about to rank her performances but Not Okay is right up there with her work in Flower, Set It Up, and Buffaloed. For playing such an unlikable character, Deutch is really good at turning in a stupendous performance.
Mia Isaac is new to feature films with her first two films being released in July–the other is Don’t Make Me Go, the new Hannah Marks filmon Prime Video. She shows a lot of promise as a performer. While her character is a trauma survivor and advocate, she does get some time on screen to just have fun. There’s a set piece her where Quinn Shephard allows the film to just slow down with a rendition of an Avril Lavigne tune.
There’s been satires about social media influencers over the years. Not Okay may just be the best of the social media influencer satires with a spectacular performance from Zoey Deutch to lead the way.
DIRECTOR/SCREENWRITER: Quinn Shephard
CAST: Zoey Deutch, Mia Isaac, Embeth Davidtz, Nadia Alexander, Tia Dionne Hodge, Negin Farsad, and Dylan O’Brien
Searchlight Pictures will release Not Okay on July 29, 2022 on Hulu. Grade: 4.5/5
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