Not Okay Review: One Of The Most Pleasant Surprises Of 2022

Social media is complicated. Places like Twitter, while occasionally positive, seem to be so deeply rooted in negativity and arguing that before you know it you've been doomscrolling for hours, absorbing so many pieces of heartbreaking information that it feels like there's no hope left in the world. There's also Instagram, where everybody posts nothing but the highlights of their lives, and scrolling through can often feel as if your life is, to put it lightly, complete garbage. It all sounds dreadful, but there's something undeniably intoxicating about social media that can make you simultaneously feel as if you're part of a community and more alone than ever before.

Danni Sanders (Zoey Deutch) has always wanted to be part of something. She works as a photo editor at the aptly-named Depravity. She longs for office camaraderie, or really any sort of friendship. However, she comes off as an unappealing blend of awkward, jealous and desperate, which everyone around her finds off-putting. When her co-workers are going to a Queer bowling event, Danni shouts "Yas queen" as a way of support, but it comes off as anything but. Danni doesn't care much about the work she does, because she longs for more than just editing photos — she wants to be a writer.

Amongst the many people who barely register Danni's existence is Colin (Dylan O'Brien), a ridiculous and funny caricature of a human being. Colin is an influential weed blogger at Depravity whose face is regularly shrouded by clouds of vapor. In an effort to get people to take notice of her — especially Colin, who she's smitten with — Danni decides to go on a writer's retreat. Unfortunately for her, you need to be invited to a writer's retreat, and she has no such invitation. So, naturally, she makes one up, even creating a fake website for it, and locating it in Paris, France. When she realizes she can't afford plane tickets, she receives serendipitous inspiration from her Guinea Pig and makes the bold decision to use her skills to manipulate images and convince everyone via her socials that Danni is very much in Paris, having the time of her life, when in reality she's sitting at home in her lonely apartment.

A 21st Century monster

The ethics are questionable here, but "Not Okay" is a film that intimately understands the social media landscape and navigating the world today as a twenty-something. After all, influencers fake things all the time to convey a certain image — you can even rent out plane interiors to make it look like you're flying first class, so what's the big deal? It's definitely weird, and probably, well, not okay, but it's fairly innocuous until the proverbial hammer drops. Moments after Danni posts a fake photo in front of the Arc de Triomphe, a terrorist attack breaks out in Paris, and her exact location is one of the landmarks hit.

This is where things really kick off: instead of just telling people she made up her Paris trip, she doubles down and pretends she was present for a terrorist attack. Now, while there's no official list of "absolutely horrific things you really under no circumstances should ever do," this is definitely one of those things. At every opportunity, Danni could back down from her claims, and say it was all just a misunderstanding. Unfortunately for Danni, and fortunately for our own entertainment, ethics are nothing to her when it compares to being in the spotlight.

Danni's experience (or complete lack thereof) in Paris leads to her climbing the ranks at work, and she writes about her traumatic experience and invents the hashtag #IAmNotOkay, which gives Danni the spotlight like never before, rapidly rising up the ranks of influencers and getting what she's always wanted — and you better believe that she'll do whatever it takes to manipulate everyone and everything to maintain the lie.

It probably doesn't need to be said, but Danni is deeply, wildly unlikable. Shephard's film warns of this before we even see her, opening the film with a content warning for an unlikable protagonist. It's funny, but it's also clever, and the film's commitment to the awfulness of Danni is what makes it such a thrill to watch. I couldn't help but be reminded of "Dear Evan Hansen," which finds the main character constructing a similarly grotesque lie. The key difference is that "Dear Evan Hansen" does everything it can to convince us that Evan is some sort of hero, worthy of our sympathy, and that because he has anxiety, all the horrifying things he does are totally okay. It feels deeply uncomfortable and ethically dubious to say the absolute least.

You simply can't look away

I'm thrilled to say that "Not Okay" offers no such reasoning for Danni. Yes, she's anxious. Yes, she's lonely, and yes, she's desperate to fit in. But there's not a single moment in the film that offers an excuse for her wretched behavior. As Shephard's film makes clear from the opening scene, redemption for our protagonist is not going to happen. It's a challenging role, and Zoey Deutch is brilliant. Her character works because Deutch's performance makes us believe that Danni honestly believes what she's doing is fine, even if the film and everyone watching knows it's horrid. She beautifully captures the millennial malaise and the desperation that comes with fitting in, and how once you're in a lie, it can be so easy to keep the lie going, no matter how complicated it gets.

If you're averse to uncomfortable situations, you could go so far as to describe "Not Okay" as a sort of horror film. Watching Danni's no-limits approach to being the center of attention is fantastic and intoxicating, so occasionally horrifying in the nonchalance that Danni approaches some of the most dread-inducing moments you can imagine. Her egregious acts are too long to list, but she ends up striking up a friendship with Rowan Aldren (an absolutely brilliant Mia Isaac), an actual survivor of gun violence. Danni's lies even begin to manifest into nightmares and hallucinations, but it's not enough to stop her drive to be somebody.

"Not Okay" is an incisive, witty, and exciting take on becoming an adult in a social-media-crazed world. It understands the impact of how growing up with things like Twitter and Instagram can impact people, likely because writer-director Quinn Shephard is a millennial herself. The film is extremely impressive, balancing humor with legitimate awfulness with the deftness of a much more experienced filmmaker. Importantly, Shephard's film uses Danni's behavior to actually make a poignant and valuable statement about real victims, allowing us to identify with characters like Rowan far more than we ever could with Danni.

A film like "Not Okay" could have been a disaster. It's so easy for material like this to end up in the wrong hands and be bewildering and distasteful (hello again, "Dear Evan Hansen"), but Shephard's steady direction and clever script allow things to hit exactly the right note. Deutch, O'Brien, and Isaac are all terrific, and "Not Okay" is one of the most pleasant surprises of 2022.

/Film Rating: 9 out of 10