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Not Okay (A Movie Review)

NOT OKAY (2022)

Starring Zoey Deutch, Dylan O'Brien, Mia Isaac, Embeth Davidtz, Karan Soni, Brennan Brown, Nadia Alexander, Tia Dionne Hodge, Negin Farsad, Sarah Yarkin, Dash Perry, Luca De Massis, Judy Zheng, Bronté Stanfield, Steven Bono Jr., Gwyneth Anne Trumbore, Teddy Cañez, Blaise Corrigan, Logan Crawford, Peter Patrikios, Christian Vunipola and Kapil Bawa.

Screenplay by Quinn Shephard.

Directed by Quinn Shephard.

Distributed by Searchlight Pictures. 100 minutes. Rated R.

You know you are in for a bumpy ride when in the disclaimer before the film, streaming service Hulu acknowledges that the lead character is unlikable. This does not necessarily mean that a movie is bad. Movie history is full of anti-heroes who are not necessarily “likable,” although I don’t remember ever being warned about it before watching one of the other films.

I’m not even sure if that description is completely fair to Danni Sanders (played by Zoey Deutch). Yes, in the beginning she is a complete horror show – an entitled, self-absorbed, superficial, offensive, neurotic, privileged, clingy, tone-deaf liar. However, in her journey in Not Okay it appears that she has learned something from what happens and has become a somewhat better person. Or has she? In the end, even she doesn’t seem to know for sure.

Yet Danni’s massive faults and ambiguity are a big part of what makes Not Okay a fairly fascinating and scathing look at modern social media. In a world where people are willing to do just about anything to get likes, is it really possible to like anyone?

Not Okay starts out showing us very graphically that Danni has become an internet pariah. She has lost her job, her reputation, her home and the one friend she had. The trolls are out in force for her. Then the movie flashes back to show us what she has done. And while in its way it is pretty horrific – or at the very least incredibly insensitive – does it deserve the vitriol being spit her way? Aren’t the people out there viciously attacking her on TikTok just as despicable as she is?

Danni is already an outcast in the beginning of the film. She works at an apparently insanely profitable hipster website called (subtly) Depravity. She is a photo assistant, but she feels that her real path is to be a journalist. Just a few problems with that assertation – she can’t really write, she doesn’t really have anything of interest to say, and she has no empathy at all. Her boss is thinking of firing her, her co-workers go out of their way to avoid her and the hot popular stoner writer she has a crush on (Dylan O’Brien) doesn’t even know she exists.

Due to an off-the-cuff bragging lie to that particular guy, she feels like she has to pretend to go to a fictitious writer’s conference in Paris. (Although, honestly, I’d be shocked if he even noticed or remembered that she mentioned the trip.) Since she can’t afford the airfare, she decides to fake the trip in Photoshop and post it on her Instagram feed. In it’s own weird way, it actually seems to be going well; she is getting some traction and views in a way that she never had before.

Then, moments after she has posted a doctored picture of herself outside the Arc de Triomphe in a cute red beret, the monument is bombed by terrorists. The Arc is damaged, and people are killed.

So what is she going to do? Admit to faking her stories or pretend she was a survivor of the horrific attack?

I think you know where this is going.

Then a weird thing happens. People start being interested in her. They are worried about her mental state. Her parents become doting and caring. Her boss asks her to write a story about her “experience.” Even the hot stoner guy is suddenly intrigued. Danni’s lies start to snowball out of control. She’s getting fame, a better job, invited to exclusive parties, and her life seems to finally be coming together the way she had hoped. She even trends on social media, spawning the hot hashtag #IAmNotOkay.

At a victim’s support group that she is mostly going to for research, Danni meets Rowan (Mia Isaac), an actual survivor (of a school shooting) who has become a figurehead of the anti-violence movement. They become friends (or at least as close to a friend as a self-absorbed person like Danni can have) and Rowan actually opens Danni up to her feelings and larger responsibilities as a human being and a public figure.

But Danni’s off-the-cuff lies are starting to be questioned, and it seems almost inevitable that her façade will be exposed.

Not Okay is a pretty scary and cynical look at modern influencers and social mores, but it is also strangely fascinating. To quote Ashton Kutcher in Vengeance – another movie that opens this weekend that also ponders this kind of modern disconnect – “Everyone has a take. Everything means everything. Something means anything.”

And some things mean nothing. While Not Okay has its share of flaws, it definitely means something.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2022 All rights reserved. Posted: July 30, 2022.

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