by Matt St Clair
While social media can be an outlet for networking and connection, it’s also a place of toxicity. Quinn Shephard’s new satire Not Okay heavily emphasizes the laugh. In a digital age where anyone can achieve fame with viral tweets or TikTok videos, Not Okay taps into how some people, like anti-heroine Danni Sanders (Zoey Deutch), go on a demeaning search for internet clout.
Stuck with an unfulfilling photo editor job when she wants to be a writer, Danni Sanders aims to get ahead at the magazine she works for. Seeking fame and validation from everyone around her, including influencer Colin (Dylan O’Brien) whom she crushes on, Danni decides to fake a trip to Paris. With just her photo skills and a change in location on her Instagram posts, Danni makes it appear she went away despite being held up in her apartment. But once a terrorist attack occurs in Paris, Danni then pretends to be one of the survivors. As you can guess, thoughts get grimmer as they progress…
Besides associating herself with a tragedy for her own personal gain, Danni descends further into obsession once she crosses paths with Rowan (Mia Isaac), a teenage survivor of a school shooting who uses her celebrity platform to take a stand against gun violence. Rowan’s authenticity makes her a perfect foil for the artifice of Danni who steals quotes from Rowan when writing up an article on her fictitious experience with the Paris bombing that becomes viral.
With her urgent, impassioned line readings as Rowan rallies for her cause, channeling her trauma into anger, Mia Isaac gives the film its heaviest dramatic punch. Meanwhile, Zoey Deutch is pitch-perfect as the opportunistic Danni. With a sickly smile and effortless charisma, Deutch makes Danni compelling even when we’re not rooting for her on her shallow quest. Praise also goes to Nadia Alexander as Harper, Danni’s jealous co-worker who slowly sees through Danni’s facade. The perpetually underrated Embeth Davidtz does wonders with her small role as Danni’s overbearing mother but the film doesn’t deploy her enough.
Not Okay is entertaining but it isn’t saying anything entirely new about the perils of social media that we haven’t heard from, say, Black Mirror’s “Nosedive” or the acclaimed Ingrid Goes West which offered a stronger balance of satire and dramatic punch. Not Okay differentiates itself with up-to-date touches by tapping into the nature of cancel culture. It even serves as a slight indictment of white feminism as Danni utilizes the trauma of Rowan, a woman of color, to further her online narrative. Yet it doesn’t dig deep enough on these issues to be as effective as it could. Still, it’s gripping enough thanks to its performances and the familiar but still effective “social media can be harmful” message. Not Okay stresses the message in its own distressing way. B
Not Okay is new on Hulu via Searchlight Pictures.