New from Peter Spedale on Be Movie See Movie: Movie Review: Not Okay

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Sometimes a lesson takes time to sink in. There have been countless movies about social media and its consequences, some good, some bad. But we need to keep making them, because it takes someone hearing something 3 times before the message sinks in. I’ll admit that’s not the ringing endorsement Not Okay was looking for. So here’s a better one, for a younger generation, Not Okay simplifies and modernizes the consequences of becoming Insta/Tik Tok famous. So Not Okay is where you start with social media lessons, ending with the wallop that is Eighth Grade.

 

Danni (Zoey Deutch) is your stereotype of a millennial. Completely obsessed with being famous but willing to put in no effort to become so, Danni meanders through her life. She’s openly mocked at her job at Depravity, an online magazine, by her peers like better writer Harper (Nadia Alexander). And she fawns over Machine Gun Kelly wannabe Colin (Dylan O’Brien) because of how many followers he has. Desperate for something to talk about, Danni fakes a “writer’s retreat” that takes place in Paris, where she green screens/photoshops her way to popularity. And she does become popular…because a terrorist happens to strike Paris when she’s “on vacay.”

Quinn Shepherd the writer/director translates social media through trauma in her movie. The Paris attack is weaponized by Danni in the form of trauma porn: she’s the “sad white girl” that podcasters love, skyrocketing her into an internet darling and face of the attacks. Danni’s “harrowing” trip puts her in trauma support groups, where she meets Rowan (Mia Isaac), a school shooting survivor. Not Okay’s lesson then transforms into a juxtaposition of Rowan’s real life trauma vs Danni’s invented one. At first Rowan becomes another person Danni only enjoys because of her popularity. Believing in her own bullsh*t, Danni co opts some of Rowan’s mannerisms and phrases for her own; any real world lessons brush by her because there really aren’t any consequences yet for Danni. But when Danni sees the real consequences of Rowan’s PTSD, Danni starts developing empathy for Rowan and real victims. Noble, but built on a house of cards, as Danni’s whole popularity is built on shameless lying. When she eventually gets found out, Danni then learns the consequences of her naive desperation, as the world completely turns on her, including Rowan, who she legitimately admired and connected with (under false pretenses). The clever ending is Shepherd’s best point, driving home the theme of the movie succinctly.

This movie would be Not Okay without Zoey Deutch. The talented actress has built up a pretty solid resume at this point, making her ready for this film, which she has to carry alone for long chunks of time. There’s an innate likability to Deutch that is necessary to imbue Danni with, making us see the character as more of an idiot than a manipulative sociopath, which would make Not Okay unwatchable. Deutch is nuanced enough as well to make us believe Danni’s transformation, necessary for the ending to mean anything at all. Also impressive is Mia Isaac as Rowan. Completely emotionally bare, Isaac brilliantly layers Rowan as a burgeoning woman who is equally fallible and heroic. There’s not a note of inauthenticity in the performance, which pairs nicely with Zoey Deutch’s empty Danni. Finally, can’t forget Dylan O’Brien, who’s onscreen for like 8 minutes but gives the movie a nice comic decompression when it needs it: a perfect encapsulation of Instagram famous.

Not Okay’s premise isn’t based on any real person, but definitely drew inspiration from real life events, like the very real Paris Terrorist attack that killed 130 people in November in 2015. That moment is seared into my brain…because I was in Paris when that happened, refreshing the page on my phone and watching the death toll just go up and up and up as the night went on. Some version of 2015 Danni was probably jealous that I got to experience something like that when they haven’t yet, and would totally have used the “French Flag” backdrops on social media to make the story about herself. I know many of those flags came from a good place, but Not Okay reminds us that maybe the story isn’t about you sometimes, and you just gotta move on.

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