Not Okay (2022)

One film that has gained a lot of attention on social media is Not Okay. The film follows Danni Sanders (Zoey Deutch), an aspiring writer currently working as a photo editor for an online magazine. Despite her extreme privilege, Danni is unsatisfied with life and pretends that she has been accepted on a writing retreat in Paris. Using her photo editing skills, Danni posts pictures on social media but this comes back to haunt her as she finds herself in a web of lies when a terrorist attack happens at the Arc de Triomphe where she had posted as her location at the time of the attack. Pretending that she is a survivor of the attack, Danni finds the fame and recognition she wanted whilst also befriending people from a local trauma support group such as Rowan (Mia Isaac). However, the more famous she becomes, the more twisted the lies become.

Written and directed by Quinn Shephard, Not Okay is hilariously self-aware from the opening shot. The film begins with a warning card that includes “unlikeable female protagonist”, apparently a clapback at some negative feedback from initial screenings. It’s clear from watching the film that Danni is not meant to be a “likeable” character as she radiates entitlement. However, what Shephard’s script does is peel away at Danni’s character until we see her eventual breakthrough. As Danni’s friendship with Rowan grows, the former starts to realise the gravity of the situation she’s in and begins to act more human despite the lies. This being said, Shephard isn’t interested in justifying or understanding Danni’s behaviour with the film being an exploration of privelege and identity. Danni is so eager to gain recognition on social media and is clearly willing to do whatever it takes to achieve this instead of coming clean in the first place.

Zoey Deutch stars as protagonist Danni Sanders, a young woman who comes from a privileged background and feels that deserves more. From her opening scenes in which she patronises her LGBTQIA+ coworkers and ignores her photo editing colleague, it is clear that Danni is an inherently selfish and self-absorbed person. Like a lot of people, she lives her life on social media and craves a wider recognition. When she pretends to visit Paris on a writing retreat, she begins to grow in popularity but she cements her influencer status when she lies about surviving a terrorist attack and speaks of her “experience”. Deutch’s performance perfectly mixes the entitlement and the character’s sincere struggle for recognition. There is a level of self-awareness in Deutch’s performance that works brilliantly as the dark humour takes the weight from some of the heavier subjects discussed in the film.

Mia Isaac is one of this year’s breakthroughs as Rowan Aldren. Rowan is a brave and resilient young woman who is part of a trauma support group after she witnessed a school shooting. Using her story, Rowan has since become an activist fighting against gun use and has a strong social media following thanks to her passionate speeches and spoken word. Isaac’s performance is nothing short of fantastic, channelling Rowan’s trauma which makes the eventual realisation of Danni’s lies absolutely devastating. The scenes in which Rowan performs her spoken word poetry are captivating and you can feel Isaac emphasising each and every word as though her life depends on it.

In a small but hilarious role is Dylan O’Brien as influencer, Colin. Colin dismisses Danni, despite her clear efforts to get him to notice her, but soon becomes interested once she garners fame. O’Brien’s performance feels similar to James Franco’s turn as Alien in Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers in that both characters are clearly taking on a stoner bravado. O’Brien is not in the film a lot and Colin doesn’t contribute a lot to the film’s overall plot, except to showcase how shallow influencer-culture can be. However, O’Brien is clearly having a lot of fun in the role and shows him in a more comical role that he hasn’t shown before.

One of the highlights in the film is the music by Pierre-Philippe Côté. The original tracks are short and sweet with a cappella sounds that are snappy. Côté’s score being so short and quick reflects social media’s tendency to focus on one topic or subject intensely for a brief amount of time before swiftly moving onto another without looking back. The music itself sounds cheery and upbeat for the most part, contrasting greatly with the darker subject matter.

Not Okay is a pleasantly surprising film. It is completely aware of its “unlikeable female protagonist” and doesn’t try to understand or justify her actions. Deutch and Isaac’s performances are excellent with the latter providing a brilliant breakthrough with such range and talent. Not Okay may not be a perfect film, but it manages to grapple with surface topics such as identity and social relevancy whilst also delving into more political territory such as gun control.

What did you think of Not Okay? Let me know in the comments below!

Not Okay is available to watch on Disney+ now!

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