Synopsis – A misguided young woman, desperate for friends and fame, fakes a trip to Paris to update her social media presence. A terrifying incident takes place in the real world which becomes a part of the imaginary trip and offers all she wanted.
My Take – While I do use social media on a daily basis, as a Millennial, I honestly don’t understand Generation Z’s (or zillennials) obsession with the medium especially to create fame for themselves irrespective of the quality of content they decide to put and support out there.
To make matters worse though social media was created as an outlet for networking and connection, it’s has incredibly morphed into a place of toxicity nowadays over the last decade. In her sophomore effort, writer-director Quinn Shephard takes on influencers, Instagram, and our national obsession with spectacle in a razor-sharp film that heavily emphasizes the latter. In a digital age where anyone can achieve fame with viral tweets or videos, this film taps into how some people can go on a demeaning search for internet clout. Acting as a satire that starts out as a comedy, but ends being a serious drama.
The film tackles the topic of internet celebrity culture by designing its story around a deliberately selfish and self-serving character whose only motivating goal is seeking attention, status and basically wanting to be famous at all costs. With such an abrasive and deliberately unlikable character as what’s presented it stands to reason the film wouldn’t be an easy sit, and it isn’t.
Yet the film ultimately succeeds as it is after all a critique of modern celebrity culture and social media. It’s portrayal of the desire for popularity via social media is accurate and insightful, and in my opinion it accurately captures the head-scrambling velocity of being online. Anyone who has opened a social media app on their phone (or any other device) in the past decade or so will surely find something to appreciate and relate to here as it is a smart portrait of easy instant fame and the price that comes with it.
The story follows Danni Sanders (Zoey Deutch), an aspiring writer who is yet to catch a big break and is stuck as a photo editor for social media based media company Depravity. Maybe because she’s insular and shallow, even claiming to have FOMO over 9/11. Her life is a lonely one. She doesn’t have friends at work, and outside of work all she has is her adorable guinea pig. After a run in with Colin (Dylan O’Brien), a co-worker, Depravity’s highest profile influencer, on whom she has been crushing on, Danni decides to invent a fictional writers retreat in Paris and act like she’s attending. And with her phone and remarkable Photoshop skills, this facade is highly believable.
But what was intended as a harmless way to impress her crush takes quite a turn when Paris is hit with a series of bombings. Unable to admit that she was never there, Danni soon finds herself at the center of attention from friends, family and strangers with Danni deciding to use her supposed close call with the terrorist attacks as a way to get fame, attention and status, eventually befriending school shooting survivor/gun control advocate Rowan Aldren (Mia Isaac).
Craving Rowan’s celebrity, genuine purpose and preternatural talent, Danni ends up channeling Rowan’s trauma into a viral article, a hashtag, and false clout. But as she spends more and more time with Rowan and grasps the teenager’s burdens and true strength, Danni’s conscience begins troubling her.
Though films like Ingrid Goes West (2017), Eighth Grade (2018), and quite a few others have already captured the landscape of social media that’s saturated with catastrophic self-importance and obsession, this one’s intriguing premise unflinchingly picks apart the malaise of our times. Furthermore, director Quinn Shephard makes a predictable yet poignant statement about the real victims and survivors of the brutal online culture.
Yes, Danni is, clearly, not a person to root for, as she tries very hard to make people like her, which is quite evident from her persona. Right from the first scene we see how she can go to any length to be noticed and accepted, such as being happy to be invited to events for queers even though she did not identify as one and it is a testament to Deutch’s bubbly yet grounded performance of anxiety that we care to see her growth, whether in the inevitable comeuppance or the seeds of an actual bond with Rowan.
The film helps us see that Danni has struggles of her own, but the problem is that she turned to social media to get her fix. It does well in painting the contrast between Danni and Rowan.
Both have platforms, but only one of them is using it for something meaningful. And it’s obvious that Rowan doesn’t care about the fame and her follower count, she wants her survival to make a difference. Here, director Quinn Shephard raises some pertinent questions by making us wonder why we are perpetuating a culture that shamelessly exploits real people’s real problems or how trauma and mental health issues become a commodity in the hands of fame-chasers and obnoxious influencers. In fact, such an online ecosystem seems to be devoid of any human qualities.
Most surprisingly there’s also definite parallels between Danni and the string of celebrities that were forced to apologize on social media after their horrible actions were exposed. The use of a notes app for the apology was a nice touch and got a chuckle out of me. Sure, it doesn’t dig deep enough on these issues to be as effective as it could have been and doesn’t punch as hard as it could have in the final act. Still regardless of the main heroine’s quick downfall, the film offers a pretty solid look at the current social media climate where the general public turns regular humans both into victims and villains, a message the writers have painted beautifully on multiple occasions.
Performance wise, Zoey Deutch directs all her quirky charisma to play a tone-deaf and clueless 20-something millennial, Danni Sanders. As one of the most likable rising stars, Deutch has long displayed a real knack for playing complicated, even awful young women before. Here too, she displays considerable comic chops, charisma, and finds the vulnerability beneath Danni’s bluster. Mia Isaac does such a stellar job in conveying Rowan’s anger, trauma and loneliness. Her spoken word performances are so affecting and will be able to touch even the most apathetic of viewers.
Dylan O’Brien is good too as a douche-bag influencer cloaked under the haze of weed. In other roles, Nadia Alexander, Tia Dionne Hodge, Negin Farsad, Karan Soni, Sarah Yarkin, Brennan Brown, Dash Perry and Embeth Davidtz are effective. On the whole, ‘Not Okay’ is an entertaining dark comedy that shows the perils of internet fame/culture.
Directed – Quinn Shephard
Rated – R
Run Time – 100 minutes