“Have you ever wanted to be noticed so badly, you didn’t even care what it was for?” says Danni Sanders (Zoey Deutch) in the opening seconds of not ok. Writer-director Quinn Shephard makes it clear from the beginning that Danni will do what it takes to be accepted, whether it’s remarking on her 9/11 FOMO (her family was too busy on a cruise to truly experience the weight of the tragedy), or trying to get herself invited to queer events, despite not identifying as such. Danni tries too hard to be liked, which emanates from her every action of her as an awkward person awkwardly attempting to not be awkward.
Similarly, not ok is also trying extremely hard, whether to be a dark comedy that can shock the audience, or trying to present a criticism of social media and clout chasers that should be obvious to anyone that lives in the real world. Behind her back of her, Danni’s coworkers ask “can tone-deaf be a brand?” and at times, Shephard’s film can also feel like that as well. Like Danni, the desperation and desire to be something else permeates not ok to its core.
In not okDanni is a photo editor at a website called Depravity, who longs to be an influencer and writer (her article “Why Am I So Sad?” somehow didn’t get approved by her boss.) Danni wants popularity, her own office, and the affections of Colin (Dylan O’Brien), a Peter Davidson-esque influencer who always has a blunt ready to go.
In a moment of panic, Danni tells Colin that she’s going to a writer’s retreat in Paris. Instead of owning up to her mistake from her to a guy who ca n’t even remember her name from her, Danni decides to create a false reality online, pretending like she’s in Paris, complete with taking photos of herself in a beret and overusing the baguette emoji. But when a terrorist attack hits Paris, Danni takes things even further, acting as a survivor of this horrible atrocity. At a survivor’s support group, Danni meets Rowan (mia isaac), who survived a school shooting and now fights for change. As Danni continues her upward rise on social media, her friendship with Rowan starts as a way to keep the sympathy coming, but soon becomes something more important to Danni.
The problem with not ok isn’t that Danni is unlikeable, that’s completely understandable. The problem is that Danni isn’t funny or interesting in any way, regardless of how dedicated Deutch is to this role. The film’s first half is almost cartoonish in the way it presents social media and Danni, yet it seems to think it’s criticisms of the social media-obsessed world are prescient and original, and that this black comedy has teeth. Even if these points weren’t obvious, there are already plenty of films, like Eighth Grade, Ingrid Goes Westand even cat fish that show the dangers of living too much in the world of social media, as opposed to the real world.
not ok‘s critique and characterizations get stronger once the film focuses on the relationship between Danni and Rowan, as Danni starts to realize how deeply lonely she was as she attempted to reach superstardom. Shephard’s screenplay also makes some solid points about people trying to be in the limelight, when the focus should be on other people attempting to make a change. Why should influencers be getting all the attention, when people who have gone through travesties and are fighting to make the world a better place only receive a fraction of the traffic? But unfortunately, not ok takes too long to get to this point, asking the audience to make their way through a movie packed with cringe, yet unfunny, moments to get to the meat of this narrative.
Deutch does a solid job with what she’s given, and she truly shines as Danni once we see her friendship with Rowan blossom. Isaac is also quite good, and between this and Don’t Make Me Go, Isaac is proving that she’s an exciting new actress to watch this year. And while seeing O’Brien as a trashy, consistently-high influencer is fun at first, the character feels like a missed opportunity that is more of a MacGuffin for Danni’s story than anything else. It’s a decent idea, but after a few appearances, Colin is little more than just a sight gag.
Especially in our social media-consumed world, there’s room for a satire that can lambast the current environment, but not ok, unfortunately, isn’t that film. Shephard gets to solid decent ideas, but the film takes 90% of its runtime to get there. For Danni, some of these concepts might be groundbreaking, but to an audience that lives in the real world, not ok is mostly just common sense.
not ok is now streaming on Hulu.