Danni Sanders, the attention-thirsty protagonist of Not Okay, has a lot of expectations for her life. She wants to be a writer or so she says but at the core of what she wants is to be famous and have a lot of followers. She sees her opportunity, albeit one with questionable morals, and takes it. As she becomes the center of attention, she also routinely acts like a horrible person. It is to Zoey Deutch's credit that she makes Danni worth following. Her comic timing and charm carry the film. If not for her, Danni would be an insufferable Gen Z brat whose white privilege goes unchecked.
Is Danni a redeemable person? Some viewers may argue yes but this was less clear for me. The film warns us early on that it "contains flashing lights, themes of trauma and an unlikable female protagonist." This cheeky warning seems to wink at the fact that Danni is terrible and unlikely going to be able to redeem herself. The friction here gives director Quinn Shephard lots to work with. When the film is focused, it is a sharp satire of social media culture. However, in attempting to make Danni come to some self-realizations, the film's edge softens to the point of being dull.
There is no question that Shephard understands today's young adults. She peppers the film's first act with tons of wry observations and satirical comedy. Jokes like Danni's office crush, Colin (Dylan O’Brien), vaping everywhere he goes are sharp and clever. However as the film reaches for more depth, it often comes up shallow. The final act abandons any of the observational humor that makes the first half so promising.
To impress Colin, Danni fakes a trip to France. Using Photoshop, she creates several photos of her living her best life in Paris. This fake life she creates starts getting her followers. It also gets Colin to notice her more. Danni only gets validation from these sources and it is clear she will do anything to get more followers. When a bomb goes off next to a landmark she posted about being at, she is thrust into being a survivor of a terrorist attack. Seeing her opportunity at fame, she carries on the lie. As that lie grows, Danni must take desperate measures to keep the truth from coming out.
Things get extra complicated when Danni meets Rowan (Mia Isaac) at a meeting for survivors. She latches on to Rowan at first because Rown is an activist with many followers. As their friendship develops, Danni begins to question all the lies she is telling.
Not Okay features a great lead performance by Deutch and enough clever jokes to recommend. I do wish it had kept its focus on lampooning Instagram culture as it moves towards a resolution. Still, the film shows so much promise for Shepard and her keen eye on her peers.