Quinn Shepherd’s Not Okay opens with a content warning, telling audiences that the film contains “an unlikable female protagonist.” It doesn’t take long for us to despise Danni Sanders (Zoey Deutch), an aspiring writer who tells her boss (Negin Farsad) that part of the reason why she isn’t happy is that she was on a cruise with her parents (Embeth Davidtz & Brennan Brown) while 9/11 happened. This opening scene gives a general idea of the type of person we will follow for the next 103 minutes, who will make up the biggest, and most offensive lie for social media clout.
The lie starts simply: to impress her co-worker/weed influencer Colin (Dylan O’Brien), Danni makes up that she is leaving for a writer’s retreat in Paris. But, of course, she can’t afford to go physically, so she photoshops herself visiting the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe, among others. However, the day she posts her photoshop of the Arc de Triomphe on Instagram, a terrorist attack occurs minutes later at that location. And instead of owning up to her mistakes and telling Colin what she did, Danni pretends to become a bombing survivor and rises to social media fame after writing a piece for her magazine with the hashtag #IAmNotOkay. The article gets amplified by activist/school shooting survivor Rowan Aldren (Mia Isaac), whom Danni befriends.
By then, you probably know how this will go: Danni gets social media famous and becomes an influencer by pretending she survived a terrorist attack, exploiting trauma for personal gain. Someone will inevitably find out, and then one wonders how the blowback will be. From the opening scene, we already know how despised she will get on social media once everything is revealed. Still, the movie doesn’t tell anything meaningful about influencer culture, trauma, grief, or other themes/subjects Shepherd presents.
Another movie of that same ilk, Ingrid Goes West, tells us many things about influencer culture and how influencers perpetuate a culture of copycats who desperately want people on social media to look at them and their so-called “perfect” life. By the end of that film, even by losing her friendship with Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen), Ingrid (Aubrey Plaza) gets what she always wanted–people looking at her and supporting her after she posted a suicide attempt on Instagram.
In Not Okay, it’s unclear precisely what Danni wants out of her quest for social media clout. Fame? Fortune? The endgame is a relationship with the dumbest man alive (and lord knows how hilarious Dylan O’Brien is at playing the most clueless influencer you’ll ever see on the silver screen), but there’s something more she seems to want from exploiting real pain and hanging out with Rowan. But the movie never explores these aspects, or asks why Danni wants fame, which makes her entire character arc feel incomplete or pointless.
And the movie becomes particularly egregious when its point is to show a terrible person exploiting trauma and suffering for social media clout because the movie will use real trauma to make its point. And the fact that it’s not even satirizing anything it presents, or at the very least exposing how horrible of a culture influencers have created, makes the entire movie feel irrelevant. Suppose you’re going to talk about complex subjects and insert an actual activist into the movie to make your point about how terrible of a human being Danni Sanders is. In that case, you should at least say something interesting about the themes you’re presenting.
I’m comparing it to Ingrid Goes West again, but that movie satirized influencer culture and showed how easy it was to create a façade behind your “perfect” social media life when your actual life is nowhere near perfect or “the best.” Not Okay doesn’t say anything compelling about its themes or Sanders herself. She’s an unlikable female protagonist. And everything she does is horrible. That’s it. There’s no depth to her character, even if Deutch does her best to play her the way a character like this should be portrayed.
It’s a shame that the real star of the movie, Mia Isaac, gets overshadowed by how appalling the premise of the film is. Isaac pours her heart and soul into every ounce of her performance and shares two impeccable monologues during the film’s latter half. It’s always great to see a star blossom in front of our eyes, and it’s clear to me that, with time, Isaac will become a household name as one of the best actresses working today. That’s how incredible she is in the movie, but her dramatic performance doesn’t necessarily balance Deutch’s darkly comedic portrayal of Danni. Still, Isaac is the film’s driving force, and without her carrying most of its emotional impact, the movie wouldn’t be as watchable as it was.
And even with three strong performances from Deutch, O’Brien, and Isaac, Not Okay still rubbed me the wrong way. Its premise never dives deep into its themes or character arcs, which makes it a half-baked “satire.” Suppose you’re selling the film, from the get-go, as having an unlikable female protagonist. In that case, you need to delve deep into why Danni Sanders is so unlikable and why she aspires for social media fame. Unfortunately, the movie never does that. Instead, it exploits trauma and grief for a film about a terrible person using trauma and grief without exploring anything about her or the themes it presents. As a result, Not Okay ends up being one of the most shameful films of the year, a “satire” without anything to satirize since it isn’t interested in talking about anything it presents.
Not Okay is now available to stream on Hulu in the United States and on Disney+ internationally.