One of the latest (and most effective) films to come on in recent years skewering the Instagram/Influencer culture, Quinn Shephard’s Not Okay features yet another stand-out performance from Zoey Deutch and a cleverly pointed script by Shephard.
Danni Sanders (Deutch) is a photo editor at a popular website yearning to be a writer. She doesn’t seem to have many friends, and her vapid take on life doesn’t earn her many admirers. Living in NYC with her pet guinea pig, she spends a lot of time alone, and while she tries to make connections to co-workers, her overbearing and tone-deaf comments steer people away. The one person who seems mildly intrigued (but not really because he’s just stoned all the time) is an influencer named Colin (Dylan O’Brien) whom she develops a crush.
Depressed (for real, she takes meds for it), she suddenly gets the idea that she will pretend to have gotten into a writing program in France and begin posting from the city of love – albeit with the aid of photoshop. This will make her stand out a bit on the interwebs and hopefully catch the attention of Colin. However, what she doesn’t expect is that she will fake a post from the Arc de Triomphe minutes before that – and several landmarks around the city – are bombed by terrorists.
Suddenly, Danni is the “girl who survived the bombings” and becomes a minor celebrity, especially when a pic of her hugging her parents when she fakes her return home gets into a major news publication. It is then she decides to write an article for her site about her “experiences.”
Meanwhile, her equally vapid mother (Embeth Davidtz) convinces her to go to a trauma support group. Knowing she needs to get some real first-hand knowledge of what it’s like to survive a tragedy, she attends. There she meets Rowan (Mila Isaac), a seventeen-year-old school shooting survivor who has become a popular, outspoken activist. The two bond and eventually join forces.
However, a gal at Danni’s workplace is suspicious and just might crack the lid open on Danni’s scam.
There are many delightful aspects to Shephard’s script aside from some clever dialogue and the main plot. Danni might be an unlikeable protagonist, but it’s fun to watch her play out a personality we’ve sadly seen all too much on Instagram and Twitter. And while she comes across as utterly clueless about herself, her whiteness, and the real issues facing the world, Shephard doesn’t just make her out to be a one-note “villain.” Danni was born into a wealthy family whose own priorities are clearly wrong. Danni’s behavior is learned, and this also shows in her resulting – and all-too-real – depression. So she makes some bad choices, leading to cataclysmic results.
Shephard expertly shows the damage Danni’s lies do to not only her but the people around her; people she’s grown to care about. And while there isn’t some revelatory redemption arc (as one of the title cards states), she does see the error of her ways. Is this a spoiler? No. We all know this movie would need to have some sort of “learning moment,” but it’s how it’s handled that is moving.
While the entire cast is fun (you’ve never seen O’Brien like this, and he’s having a blast), and Isaac herself has several powerful moments, it’s Deutch who shines. How this actress isn’t the biggest star on the planet, I’ll never know, but long gone are the days when we had stars like that. But she is constantly working and consistently putting out fantastic work. Here, again, she utilizes her expert comic timing, her relatability, and her empathy to transform Danni into a fully realized character far from the one-note “Zillennial” you might expect.
This is due to the writing and her performance, and it’s so much fun to watch. This is a film that warns of the dangers of fame and the dark side of having your truth revealed. Sure, she does a terrible, awful thing, but she’s not “just” an insipid girl trying to be famous. Danni is a girl desperately trying to connect to anyone and anything and makes a choice. It’s a terrible one, but one nonetheless.
This story has a lot in common with the Broadway hit Dear Evan Hansen. In that play/film, a guy lies about his friendship with a boy who has recently committed suicide. He does it to make himself feel not so much like a loser but also to ease the deceased boy’s parents’ pain. What starts as a misguided good intention blows up into something more, and he has to accept its consequences.
Here, Danni might not have had the greatest intentions, but we see an evolving realization in her that is potent. And props to Shephard for ending her film perfectly.
Not Okay is not only hilarious, but it is a warning on how “not” to use the internet in a world where nothing can be hidden.