REVIEW: “Not Okay” (2022)

Did you ever want to be noticed so badly that you didn’t even care what it was for?“ Those opening words cut to the heart of “Not Okay”, the new social satire from 27-year-old writer-director Quinn Shephard. This is yet another feature-length roast of modern digital culture and internet celebrity. That isn’t a bad thing considering how much time we spend marinating in viral videos, clickbait, hashtags, the latest memes, and 280-character hot takes.

The problem is “Not Okay” spends too much time taking easy shots at the most obvious targets rather than exploring what drives the obsession for web-based celebrity and our insatiable appetites for instant notoriety. It gives lip service to symptoms such as self-loathing, insecurity, loneliness, and depression. But it never treats any of those things as causes worth examining. Instead the movie bops around with an admittedly entertaining energy. If only it had more weight.

A really good and thoroughly committed Zoey Deutch plays Danni Sanders, a photo editor and wannabe writer working for a New York-based magazine called Depravity (fitting). She’s no hero which the movie lets us know through a pretty hilarious opening content advisory that reads “This film contains flashing lights, themes of trauma, and an unlikable female protagonist.” As it turns out, “unlikable” is massive understantment. But thanks to Deutch’s charisma, unlikable never turns to insufferable.

Image Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures

Danni may say she wants to be writer, but her true dream is to be noticed. Danni craves attention and she sees writing as a way to gain notoriety rather than to say something of value. She’s the kind who always has her face glued to her smartphone and who measures worth by someone’s follower count. So it’s no surprise she doesn’t connect with the people she works with. She often clashes with her boss (a really funny Negin Farsad) and is frequently snubbed by the office cliques. The lone exception is her eccentric cubicle partner, Kelvin (a funny and underused Karan Soni) who she’s quick to brush off.

It also makes sense that she would have a crush on her co-worker and dedicated pothead Colin (Dylan O’Brien). He’s a big-time Instagram personality whose ludicrous persona, ever-present vape cloud, and “weedboiiicolin” online handle tell you all you need to know. Colin is basically an avatar for the shallowness of internet celebrity. He delivers some good early laughs before dwindling into nothing more than a punchline in the second half.

In a spur-of-the-moment attempt at impressing Colin, Danni gins up a story about attending a writer’s retreat in Paris. Rather than following the wisdom of that great sage Barney Fife and nipping it in the bud, Danni embraces the lie. She begins photoshopping pictures to make it look like she’s in the City of Lights and then posting them online. Before long she has created one big elaborate ruse, and all to earn the attention of a flake who can’t even remember her name.

But the scheme blows up in her face after a string of coordinated terrorist attacks strike Paris, targeting major landmarks across the city. It’s not the most sensitive or empathetic choice from Shephard considering the real-life deadly attacks the city has faced in recent history. Nonetheless the movie goes with it and soon Danni finds herself faced with a dilemma. Does she come clean and admit her lies or does she roll with the scam and bask in the attention it brings. She chooses the latter.

Image Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures

Morally oblivious and shockingly self-centered, Danni becomes in instant social media star, milking her faux survivor status for every follower she can get. She becomes the toast of her swanky but superficial workplace where she’s given her own office and unlimited “mental health days” which she abuses without shame. But her most detestable act involves a school shooting survivor turned fireball activist Rowan (Mia Isaac). I won’t spoil it, but the two develop a friendship built around Danni’s lie. And while Rowan offers Danni some much-needed perspective, she also exposes Danni’s most vile proclivities.

“Not Okay” is a hard movie to size up. In one sense it’s a gutsy film that goes to some unexpectedly icky places. Unfortunately it doesn’t go far enough. Danni is clearly a disgusting person (the movie even tells us so in case we missed it), but there’s still a nagging empathy for her that keeps the movie from going as far as it could have. And while Shephard’s messaging is sincere, she occasionally veers into preachiness that seems aimed solely at the choir, leaving the movie without the insight it desperately wants to have.

To its credit, “Not Okay” has some good things to say about influencer culture, our twisted fascination with tragedy, and the dehumanization of social media and web culture in general. And you can’t knock Deutch’s performance, especially her incredible management of energy and tone. But just as Danni tries incredibly hard to be noticed, so does the movie. And while she often comes across as tone-deaf, so are some of the story choices. It makes the film hard to fully embrace, despite the many things it does well. “Not Okay” is now streaming on Hulu.


13 thoughts on “REVIEW: “Not Okay” (2022)

    • Interestingly, it’s not all that shocking because it plays it a little safe. I do find it to be a little tone-deaf in some of its story choices. But Deutch is really good. There’s parts of it I really liked, but too much that held it back for me.

  1. I was hoping to see this mainly for Zoey Deutch and the subject matter as it relates to social media as I just watched Mainstream by Gia Coppola starring Andrew Garfield and Maya Hawke (which I enjoyed) as it had a smacked-on take on influencers and all of that bullshit.

    I’ve been reading on this whole mess with Warner Media and why do I get the feeling that this is going to be a total money loser? I remember more than 20 years ago when Time Warner did a merger with AOL and look how that turned out. It now has me worried for what would happen to AEW and ROH as this whole new thing just fucking sucks. I don’t think I would want to be part of this new DiscoveryMAX thing.

    • Oh I agree. This looks like a mess in the making. I remember that AOL merger and that’s an interesting comparison. I can see this turning out just as bad. Certainly doesn’t sound promising.

      • And I just read that The Flash is still scheduled for its release despite the awful shit that Ezra Miller is doing. What a load of bullshit.

      • Yeah, I don’t know what to think on some of the decisions coming out of there. I don’t pretend to know what their long-term plans are but I feel “Flash” was intended to play a big part in jumpstarting it. As for “Batgirl”, to be honest I had completely forgotten there was a Batgirl movie coming. But that’s irrelevant. If you have $90 million invested in a movie that’s practically finished, why on earth do you not at least release it on HBO Max? It’s mind-boggling.

        Looks like Christopher Nolan knew what he was doing when he gave WB the boot.

      • Nolan definitely made the right move. He is the smart one. He probably overheard some meetings behind the scenes and was like “fuck this, I’m out”. I don’t blame him.

  2. I like Zoey but this def sounds forgettable. Honestly, the peak of these movies to me is 2017’s Ingrid Goes West. I’d even go far to say it’s one of the best films of the last decade. Extremely pitch perfect in its satire of the Instagram culture.

  3. I completely agree with your analysis. At first I thought the film was doing a great job at tackling influencer culture, the desperation to both be famous and fit in resulting in Dani’s cringey attempts at being “woke” that we see in the first act of the film. I was beginning to think this was going to be a rather edgy satire commenting on Why would a girl would fake being in a tragedy for fame? Rather than push and answer those deeper questions, as you said it turned into a “preachy” film with Rowan serving as the foil to Dani. By the end it seemingly felt more interested in just saying “Here’s Dani a horrible person who exploited a fake tragedy sorry for overnight fame, hate her. Here’s Rowan, a who survived a real tragedy and became a famous activist overnight. Love her”. The answers to those deeper questions, were RIGHT THERE and the film ignored them. I would have loved to have seen just a few scenes at the end, maybe a reflective piece from Dani exploring our culture’s celebration of victimization which would have ties back to her initial intentionally ridiculous piece where she espouses that on missing out on 9/11 makes her sad because she missed the shared grief bonding.

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