Saturday, June 10, 2023

Movie Review: ‘Not Okay’ is Just That

Director: Quinn Shephard

Writer: Quinn Shephard

Stars: Zoey Deutch, Dylan O’Brien, and Mia Isaac

Synopsis: An ambitious young woman finds followers and fame when she poses as the survivor of a deadly attack, but she soon learns that online notoriety comes with a terrible price.

Every year we get these kinds of snarky satires and each time it’s a reminder of the miracle that is Michael Bay’s Pain & Gain. It’s a mystery as to how he pulled it off, but that film is pretty masterful as a ridiculous mockery that never sways from its tone and over-the-top style. Even as things get absurdly out of control, it leans into its excessive behavior and the result is wildly entertaining.

Not Okay has its heart in the right places, but it’s frustratingly uneven as a satire. Regardless of whether its humor works, and mostly it’s hit or miss, you can’t question its commitment to the parody it’s aiming for. Danni (played wonderfully by Zoey Deutch) works for a magazine called Depravity (no obvious commentary there) and she’s an aspiring writer despite the fact that she’s a photo editor. One of her co-workers Colin (Dylan O’Brien playing the thirst trap) is somewhat popular and she has her eye on him. In her attempts to capture his attention, and the world at large, she Photoshop’s a “work” trip to Paris to garner clout. However, a tragic bombing takes place in Paris and, to continue the lie, she despicably exploits trauma to render empathy from everyone around her. Throughout all of this, Not Okay is a clear mockery of clout chasing and the extreme lengths people go to for attention.

Danni is tasked to write a story about her “experience” for Depravity and it ends up going viral. It brings her fame and the superficiality she craves, including the attention of her crush Colin. Ironically though, Danni’s night out with Colin isn’t exactly what she imagined it to be. There is a clear turning point after this where things pivot drastically in terms of tone and style. It’s here where Not Okay starts to lose itself, as it becomes a straight up poignant drama for the rest of the film. And in another weird twist, it actually functions better as a biting drama.
Soon after Danni becomes famous for her #IAmNotOkay movement, she connects with another young woman by the name of Rowan (played by newcomer Mia Isaac). Rowan is a survivor of a school shooting and has become a vocal leader in her own anti-gun movement. They become good friends and connect through their shared experiences. This intensifies further when Danni realizes the futility of her clout-chasing after her date with Colin. However, it doesn’t take long for Danni’s lie to start to unravel and the conflict that arises between Danni and Rowan is really moving.

And thus, we are left with many questions. Firstly, what kind of movie does Not Okay want to be? Because it goes really hard as an absurd satirical comedy in the vein of Pain & Gain in its first act. But then it wants to be an uncompromising social drama about the appalling nature of deceitful victimization. Is it about the volatile nature of social media? The hazy allure of FOMO? Is it about depression and loneliness? Is it about the idea that it’s okay to not be okay? Is it…about gun violence in America? For a movie whose plot is fundamentally rooted in a terrorist bombing in France, this somehow turns into a commentary on guns in the United States. The problem with Not Okay is that it doesn’t know what it wants to do with its ideas or how to execute them with its lead character. The film is thematically overstuffed and tonally jumbled. It’s essentially acting as four different movies in one experience and pulling on 11 different thematic strings in the process.

There’s no denying the toxicity of clout chasing, and how disturbing it has become, but sadly that idea in this film is as hollow as the subject that it’s tackling. At some point, social media isn’t even a major factor in the film. It has good intentions, but the lack of commitment eventually suffocates any momentum that it gained as a satire or as a drama. That said though, Mia Isaac is a star and steals the show. She’s terrific in the way she portrays anxiety and grief. As a social media influencer and vocal leader, she’s magnetic. There are a few monologues by Rowan and they are pulsating with energy and conviction.  She should be one everyone’s list for breakout performances of 2022. Zoey Deutch is also great. She has a wonderful ability to heighten awkward tension and make it engaging.

Not Okay isn’t a bad film per se, it’s just an unfocused one. When it functions as a snarky satire, it is effective. When it acts as a poignant drama, it’s even more effective. The two don’t mesh very well, but singularly there are good things here. Pick a lane and perhaps lose some of those thematic strings and this could have been great. As it stands though, it’s…just okay.

Grade – C

JD Duran
JD Duran
InSession Film founder and owner. I love film. Love art. Love how it intersects with our real lives. My favorite movies include Citizen Kane, The 400 Blows, Modern Times, The Godfather and The Tree of Life. Follow me on Twitter @RealJDDuran. Follow us @InSessionFilm.

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