Film & TV

Film Review: ‘Not Okay’: A Warning About Faking Your Life on the Internet

BY Mark Jackson TIMEJuly 24, 2022 PRINT

The increasingly potent desire to build a personal online brand and get thousands of “likes” is viewed by many as the downfall of modern civilization. “Not Okay” is already old hat in the new genre about the old human foible of selling one’s soul to the devil for worldly success. One of the better movies about trying to be someone you’re not and its repercussions was 2018’s “Eighth Grade.”

Arriving in the wake of the Johnny Depp and Amber Heard defamation trial, “Not Okay” feels immediately familiar. It opens with a warning that the movie will feature “flashing lights, themes of trauma, and an unlikable female protagonist.”

I actually fell for that for a second, because the same kind of cloying, hyper-safe-y-safe ridiculousness is all over Facebook now, but for real: Facebook now bleeps out phrases like “domestic violence” (because it might harm you if you hear those actual words spoken), so it was easy to miss that “unlikable female protagonist” was supposed to be ironic. But you see why that phrase reminds one of the Depp-Heard court case.

Anyway, “Not Okay” is not really a fun watch, but it functions well as a cutting-edge social commentary, and its biting, pitch-black comedy puts a high-velocity sniper bullet through the heart of influencer culture. It can’t be recommended for impressionable youth to watch due to the R rating, but they’re going to find a way to watch it anyway, so maybe its warning will do some good.

Zoey Deutch Has Some Nerve

Zoey Deutch (daughter of Lea Thompson, who played Marty McFly’s mom in “Back to the Future”) is making a name for herself as a pretty face who dares to go where most actresses fear to tread: allowing herself to be hugely unlikable. It’s a dangerous area to navigate and a gutsy move to try and pull off, but she traverses this mine field brilliantly.

In “Not Okay,” Deutch plays Danni Sanders, a lowly photo editor desperate to become a writer for Depravity, the online magazine she works for. Danni’s editor (Negin Farsad) is highly skeptical and chastises Danni for writing an article about feeling like she missed out on the generational trauma of 9/11, because she was out of the country on vacation. Socially tone deaf and narcissistic doesn’t begin to describe Danni.

Danni’s need for attention is borderline sociopathic. The social ineptness of someone this pretty, trying desperately to insert herself into the conversations of the cooler office cliques and not really registering the high repetition of cold shoulders is highly unlikely. But Deutch makes it work.

woman and man in purple shirt in NOT OKAY
Danni (Zoey Deutch) and her office crush, Colin (Dylan O’Brien), in “Not Okay.” (Nicole Rivelli/Searchlight Pictures)

Danni’s sick and tired of being a nobody at her job, and she can’t manage to get the attention of her office crush, Colin (Dylan O’Brien), a bleach-blond, tatted, perennially vaping, ebonics-spewing influencer.

What’s a girl to do? To boost her visibility and follower count, she photoshops herself a shiny new life: She’ll soon be jetting to Paris for a writer’s retreat, don’tcha know.

NOT OKAY
Danni Sanders (Zoey Deutch) fakes an Instagram friendly trip to Paris in the hopes of boosting her social media clout, in “Not Okay.” (Nicole Rivelli/Searchlight Pictures)

Oops

woman in red beret in NOT OKAY
Danni Sanders (Zoey Deutch) photoshops herself in front of the Eiffel Tower, hoping people will like it a lot, in “Not Okay.” (Nicole Rivelli/Searchlight Pictures)

Now that everyone knows she’s in France, she wakes up to see on the news that terrorist bombings have wreaked massive havoc in the French capital. So Danni doubles down on her deception, going so far as to hide in the airport so she can create a photo-op of herself returning to the good old U.S. of A. Then, she builds an entire fake online persona as a heroic bombing survivor.

This is a comedy? It treads a very fine line, especially when Danni starts going to support groups and rallies, and befriends Rowan (Mia Isaac), who is an earnest school shooting survivor and gun violence campaigner dedicated to societal change. Danni parasitically hitches her cart to Rowan’s wagon, and for a short while she’s highly followed and liked; it gets her 15 famous minutes based on her own personal version of #MeToo. Her particular little phrase is “not okay,” because, you know, she’s a bomb survivor, and so it’s okay for her to be not okay—and her obnoxious character is happy as a pig in excrement.

But it’s only a matter of time before the world catches Danni working the levers behind the curtains, and she learns the hard way that the internet loves a takedown, again, as recently evidenced in the Depp-Heard trial.

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(L–R) Charles (Kirk White), Danni (Zoey Deutch), and Rowan (Mia Isaac) attend a survivors support group, in “Not Okay.” (Nicole Rivelli/Searchlight Pictures)

Also, eventually, by way of her web of lies, she gets invited to an exclusive party by Colin. Colin’s a perfect match for her; he’s just as disingenuous, albeit in a slightly less toxic fashion. At one point, he drops his own über-curated personality to confront the one person who’s been wise to both him and Danni from the start. She, an office colleague named Harper (Nadia Alexander), hilariously reminds Colin’s street-talking wannabe-gangsta self that he’s from Maine.

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Colin (Dylan O’Brien) and Danni (Zoey Deutch), in “Not Okay.” (Nicole Rivelli/Searchlight Pictures)

Unlike most female leads in this genre, Danni ends the movie in a much worse place than where she was in the beginning. And while a smidgin of character building, remorse, and regret happens along the way, we’re constantly reminded that her toxic, narcissistic neediness brought this whole mess down upon her head.

Danni got what she wished for and thereby demonstrates how the placing of any sort of measurable value on what online strangers perceive of you is a useless goal. And if you covet fame so badly that you sell your soul to the devil, especially on the fickle and devious internet, there can be swift retribution.

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Danni (Zoey Deutch) seeing her online chickens coming home to roost in the form of massive cyberbullying, trolls, and an online audience that has the righteous moral high ground, in “Not Okay.” Now she’s really not okay. (Nicole Rivelli/Searchlight Pictures)

Influencer Culture

Deutch deserves kudos for having the courage to portray such an irredeemably morally bankrupt parasite for the majority of the movie’s run time. By the time Danni tries to make amends, nobody wants to hear it. Death threats, memes, and more, turn her life into an eventual living nightmare that was entirely avoidable before she intentionally lit the fuse that blew up and caused the end of her world as she knew it.

two girls in NOT OKAY
The unsuspecting Rowan (Mia Isaac, L) sharing her social platform with the parasitic Danni (Zoey Deutch),  in “Not Okay.” (Nicole Rivelli/Searchlight Pictures)

And the question hangs there, the entire time, of how much sympathy we should really feel for someone who ultimately destroys their own life by lying and using people.

Movie poster for "Not Okay."
Movie poster for “Not Okay.”

‘Not Okay’
Director: Quinn Shephard
Starring: Zoey Deutch, Mia Issac, Dylan O’Brien, Embeth Davidtz, Nadia Alexander
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 1 hour, 40 minutes
Release Date: July 29, 2022
Rating: 3 stars out of 5

Mark Jackson
Film Critic
Mark Jackson is the senior film critic for The Epoch Times. Mark has 20 years' experience as a professional New York actor, classical theater training, and a BA in philosophy. He recently narrated the Epoch Times audiobook “How the Specter of Communism is Ruling Our World,” and has a Rotten Tomatoes author page.
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