Writer/director Quinn Shephard’s Not Okay presents an exaggerated look at the desperation attached to social media culture. Actors Zoey Deutch, Dylan O’Brien, and Mia Isaac deliver worthwhile performances, but the film’s anti-redemption arc is lacking. Not Okay is the type of comedy that walks a very fine line with particularly sensitive themes involving terrorism, school shootings, and trauma.
‘Not Okay’ is a cautionary tale of social media and attention desperation
Danni Sanders (Deutch) is a young woman who works at a digital media outlet in imaging. However, she dreams of making the switch over to becoming a writer. Meanwhile, Danni crushes on a colleague named Colin (O’Brien) and makes up a lie that she’s traveling to Paris, France, for a writers’ retreat. However, a deadly terrorist attack in Paris makes her pretend she’s a survivor of the horrible tragedy.
Not Okay finds Danni gaining fame, followers, and sympathy in ways that suddenly fulfill her desperate search for attention, kindness, and respect. However, she’s about to learn that online notoriety comes with a terrible price. She becomes close friends with a school shooting survivor and activist named Rowan (Isaac), who fights for change.
Writer/director Quinn Shephard crafts an anti-redemption story
Not Okay positions itself as a cautionary tale in several regards, including the dangers of social media obsessions and the desire to be seen. However, Shephard also warns the audience of “unlikable female protagonists,” making it clear from the get-go that this isn’t necessarily a character to root for. Nevertheless, Not Okay dives into how the Internet turns villains into victims and vice versa. Danni’s story contains a generational discourse on how the world processes hardship in the social media age.
Shephard’s screenplay tackles white privilege and creates comedy surrounding it that often uses cringe culture as its punchline. Rowan acts as a juxtaposition to Danni, providing the film with authenticity and hope of how future generations can utilize their social platforms for good. However, Danni refuses to take any shred of responsibility, always displacing her hardships on external factors. Shephard’s story presents many opportunities for the character to potentially redeem herself, but she never takes them.
Not Okay tackles some deep subject matter, including trauma. However, the screenplay doesn’t focus on applying dramatic weight but only teases the most serious ramifications of Danni’s actions. They’re often sugar-coated with sprinkles of comedy that break up the tension. Rowen teaches Danni that pain is one’s biggest asset to use in the world, but in Not Okay‘s case, it doesn’t quite find how to incorporate that message organically.
‘Not Okay’ has its heart in the right place, but it’s an underbaked narrative
Not Okay explores some really sensitive themes, such as school shootings, terrorism, and depression. This requires Shephard to explore this terrain carefully; her heart is certainly in the right place. However, it doesn’t really have anything new or particularly impactful to contribute to the conversation. It’s predictable and occasionally insensitive in how it handles the exploitation of school shootings and other acts of terrorism.
Nevertheless, the cast turns in good work here. Deutch successfully pulls off a narcissistic character in Danni and gives her layers. O’Brien easily pulls off his comedic timing, making Colin a welcome addition away from the film’s main arc. However, Isaac is an absolute star and consistently steals the show. She injects this character with such an easy sense of honesty that draws the viewer in, making her character increasingly fascinating.
Social media can be a wonderful place, but it can also turn ugly very quickly. Danni and Rowan experience this in their own ways, but Shephard ultimately makes a message about the real world and the importance of living an authentic life. Danni is despicable, but unlike Dear Evan Hansen’s title character, the journey to redemption takes a more appropriate route. Not Okay is appropriately an anti-redemption movie, but it struggles to find the humor or the compelling drama in a touchy subject.
Not Okay lands on Hulu starting on July 29.