Not Okay: The BRWC Review
Dani Sanders, a social media-obsessed outcast, designs a ploy to gain new followers by faking a luxury vacation. When her destination becomes the site of a tragic event, Dani is thrust into the highs and lows of media culture in Not Okay.
I appreciate Blame writer/director Quinn Shephard for crafting Not Okay as an ambitious meditation on exploitation in the social media age. She is a voice with genuine promise, skillfully imbuing a colorfully frenetic style akin to the scrolling artifice of phone screens. The busy aesthetics also serve as an apt reflection of Dani – a protagonist who is ultimately a byproduct of our culture’s obsession with fame and discovering a higher purpose.
When the style and thematic conceits find their rhythm, Not Okay mines a few thoughtful explorations on our culture’s commodification of trauma and spectacle. Star Zoey Deutch also deserves praise for enriching Dani’s vapid persona. The actress unearths the character’s isolation and insecurities lying deep beneath her high-energy facade, while co-star Mia Isaac provides gravitas in her supporting turn as the survivor of a traumatic event.
Not Okay possesses relevant ideas and an expressive voice – traits that eventually go to waste from the film’s shallow perspective. The high-energy presentation style devolves into a didactic megaphone for Shephard to clunkily shout out her conceits. Her script simplifies complex societal issues into simplistic conclusions, trying too hard to create a clean solution from a society-defining problem. It does not help that attempts at satire, like the presence of a fame-obsessed stoner played by Dylan O’Brien, lack any comedic bite.
Shephard’s intriguing idealism also integrates familiar notions that have already received exploration in superior films. Recently, Nope offered salient commentary on the exploitation of trauma, while social media age narratives like Ingrid Goes West, Spree, Disconnected and Mainstream highlighted the dark side of internet culture with more perspective. Swimming in previously-charted territory is not necessarily a weakness. However, it eventually becomes one for Not Okay as the film reads like a truncated thesis constructed for less-demanding young adult viewers.
Not Okay ultimately gets lost in its ambition. Still, I applaud Shephard for her risks and am excited to see what she does going forward.
Not Okay is now playing on Hulu.
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