July 29th, 2022
MOVIE: NOT OKAY
STARRING: ZOEY DEUTCH, DYLAN O’BRIEN, MIA ISAAC, EMBETH DAVIDTZ
DIRECTED BY: QUINN SHEPHARD
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 3 ½ STARS (Out of 4)
The times we are living in are certainly fucked up. And there might not be a better representation of how messed up it all is than Quinn Shephard’s biting new film Not Okay. At the center of it is an enthralling performance from Zoey Deutch, in the role of a vapid person that’s set on being liked by the world, which becomes her downfall when the whole world gives her the attention. The crux of it all is how perfect it represents the time we live in, where we all crave acceptance, or direct our anger at people online, seek attention on the internet, and try to make sense of it all. Not Okay is part dark comedy and part harsh reality, putting a fresh new spotlight on the messed up culture we all seem to be a part of. I guess this is our reality and I’m Not Okay.
The premise is that Danni (Deutch) works for a magazine, similar to the vein of a Buzzfeed or The Ringer, a cultural publication that captures life in the moment, and at the moment Danni hasn’t been able to make a dent in her transition from photo editor to writer. The fact is that she’s lonely and would do anything to have an online following, along with catching the attention of Logan Paul-like Colin (an often scene stealing Dylan O’Brien). In her desperation, Danni comes up with the idea to fake attending a writing retreat in Paris, but the unexpected happens of a terrorist attack in Paris. Instead of revealing she wasn’t actually there, Danni plays into it, accepting the attention, and even connecting with a support group of people impacted by tragic events. This leads to her connection with gun violence activist Rowan (Mia Isaac) and with her help, Danni writes an article that turns her faux trauma into a new form of celebrity.
As far as original material goes, it’s insane to think that this smart screenplay by Quinn Shephard would even be able to make this much sense, yet we are in a time of the absurd. On one hand you have a story such as Jussie Smollett’s fake attack- which harms the kindness of humans who care for marginalized communities and on the other you have a monster such as Alex Jones claiming children being murdered as a fake event. It’s all of those realities that sink into the marrow of Not Okay, where Danni’s seeking acceptance drives her to extremes, allowing a lie to become her identity, and using it for her benefit. It’s what is learned along that way that Shephard nails, as there is no such thing as a career from trauma. Any activist from the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting would gladly go back to a time before they were violently thrust into that painful reality. There is not a career, or money, or success that comes from these kinds of trauma and Not Okay brilliantly displays that.
The other major factor for why Not Okay works is the collection of performances all around. Zoey Deutch is fantastic. I’m already putting her on the short list of great leading performances, as her portrayal as Danni is a complete evolution, playing someone willing to do what it takes for popularity and then regretting how she got it. Deutch was already a proven great actor and now she’s getting bigger characters to work with. The supporting work from Isaac is powerful and genuine, while the work from O’Brien is some of the best supporting work this year. His blonde hair, black stubble, along with a collection of moments that made me laugh out loud, including a rolled joint that looks like an eight legged spider make his work truly memorable.
And what’s the answer at the end? I’m not sure if there’s a response we’re able to get, as the character of Danni is all too common today, as the person seeking validation. Isn’t that what we’re all doing? Similar to what occurs in Vengeance this week, a movie such as Ingrid Goes West, or what Bo Burnham hit on in Eight Grade, we all just seem to be living in a time of need. Not Okay perfectly represents a moment, a person we know too well, and challenges us to have empathy. We’ve all experienced some kind of trauma, some more than others, but I just hope we can all see one another for the true people that we are. I hate to break it to you. Sadly we’re all just human.
NOT OKAY IS PLAYING ONLY ON HULU JULY 29TH, 2022
3 ½ STARS
Written by: Leo Brady