To be in the public eye is not an easy task. You do need a particular set of skills to keep millions of people enthralled by giving them the same or more of what you are liked for. And it’s tough to find the balance between satisfying your fans and satiating your desire as an artist. However, with the advent of the internet, the nature of keeping your fans entertained has extended from a few national or international events per year to 24 hours. Those who create, obviously, find that to be hard because art is not pop-corn. Some even prioritize their work and mental health and skip the whole social media presence thing. Those spots are taken up by a subspecies of humans called influencers (a word that has acquired such a negative connotation that influencers are starting to call themselves “digital creators”). “Not Okay” is about this subspecies.
Written and directed by Quinn Shephard, “Not Okay” tells the story of Danni Sanders (Zoey Deutch). She works at a publication called Depravity as a Photoshop artist and aspires to be a writer. She is disliked by her boss (maybe because she hasn’t written anything) and her colleagues (because she tries too hard to befriend anyone). She is a fan of Colin (Dylan O’Brien), a rapper/influencer, and really wants to be in his good books. So, she lies and says she’s going to Paris for a writer’s retreat to impress Colin. When it comes to following through on her lie, Danni faces some financial difficulties. But that’s solved by her guinea pig (I am not kidding) as it reminds her of her Photoshopping skills. Things go somewhat fine until a terrorist attack happens in Paris. And Danni is faced with the dilemma of admitting that she never was anywhere near France or using this opportunity to get more attention.
Let’s make this clear: influencers are one of the worst things on this planet and on the internet. There aren’t any positive influencers. They are just better at keeping their demons out of sight than the rest of them. Are they the worst things on the internet? Surely not. There are people indulging in activities that are criminal. But that’s the thing. They are on that side of the proverbial line. Influencers aren’t. While we are still figuring out what constitutes as acceptable and what is not, they are using this time to “influence.” Large chunks of the internet are still not opposed to classism, sexism, casteism, racism, shaming people with physical and mental disabilities, fatphobia, and religious discrimination and will openly partake in it under the guise of “dark comedy.” You’ll see influencers do the same. Sometimes very subtly and sometimes not so subtly. And since their fandom consists of deeply insecure or immature people, they get a free pass until they don’t.
Filmmakers repeatedly face difficulty while talking about influencer culture. Because they focus too much on the individual, thereby shaping the viewing experience from the influencer’s perspective. Whereas the story should be about the line and how the influencer exploits its definition, With “Not Okay,” Quinn Shephard is guilty of doing the former. The opening disclaimer states that the film is about an unlikeable female character, and the penultimate chapter states that Danni is not going to get a redemption arc. But, throughout the film, Danni is constantly placed with people who are far more annoying than her, which automatically makes you empathize with her. Even if they aren’t irritating, the supporting characters are painted with the most stereotypical brush strokes, thereby making them appear shallow. Since she goes on a weirdly educational journey, the entirety of the film becomes her redemption arc, which contradicts the title card boldly saying that there isn’t one. And that begs the question, what is this movie actually about and what does it want to say?
Unless the writer-director says otherwise, “Not Okay” clearly sympathizes with the privileged influencer. She is made to look relatable and fashionable, and the worst parts of her character come off as “quirky.” The only good point that Quinn manages to make is that the biggest chunk of influencers are out-of-touch brats from the upper class. They aren’t as rich as Kendall Jenner, but they are rich enough to be ignorant. But then there’s no deeper exploration of that. What separates Danni from the rest of the people (who appear to be as exploitative and shallow as she is by the end of the film)? Why does she think the way she thinks? If she isn’t so bad (because Quinn clearly thinks she isn’t, although she keeps screaming at us that Danni is unlikable), why isn’t she worthy of a redemption arc? And since the answers to that are “she’s like everyone else,” “she thinks like everyone else,” and “maybe she does deserve redemption,” respectively, it becomes clear that “Not Okay” is fundamentally flawed.
On top of that, “Not Okay” is so devoid of passion. Every conversation scene is constructed, shot, and lit in the blandest ways possible. There’s one confrontation between Danni and Rowan (Mia Isaac), which is meant to be this amazing moment of comeuppance and catharsis. And Quinn doesn’t even let that moment breathe because she is too busy peddling the message of how everyone around Danni is cruel, mean, and bad. Robby Baumgartner has worked on “Moonfall,” “Midway,” “A Call to Spy,” “Blindspotting,” “Blair Witch,” and “The Guest.” So, I’ve no clue what happened here. This lack of flavor isn’t limited to the cinematography, of course. Composer Pierre-Philippe Côté, editor Mollie Goldstein, production designer Jason Singleton, art director Jasmine Cho, and costume designer Katy Porter, no one, absolutely no one, manages to salvage the film. No, not even the actors. Everything about Dylan O’Brien, his Blaccent, and his journey from Maine, makes it seem like he has a better story to tell. But that ship sank before it got to sail.
In conclusion, “Not Okay” is a pointless watch. If you love influencers and influencer culture, first of all, why? Second of all, what is wrong with you? Third of all, there’s nothing in this movie that’ll change your perspective on influencers for the better. It’ll probably make you empathize with them because they are rightfully demonized for being the human equivalent of leeches. Which, in and of itself, is a bad thing. If you hate influencers, this film is only going to frustrate you because you’ll feel that you have more knowledge about the complexity of influencer culture than Quinn Shephard and her team. If you are a hardcore fan of Zoey Deutch and/or Dylan O’Brien, well, Dylan’s hardly in the film, and Zoey isn’t appropriately utilized. So, proceed with caution. And stay away from influencers and digital creators because they’ll definitely exploit you and your life experience to gain a few more views, likes, retweets, shares, and followers.