Danni Sanders has FOMO because she's not old enough to remember 9/11. That tells you everything you need to know about her. The character, played by Zoey Deutch in the dark comedy Not Okay, is a perfect representation of Instagram influencer syndrome, where things in the world only matter in terms of how they apply to ME. Danni yearns for that sort of attention, and she gets it, only to swiftly become an online pariah. The movie tracks how that happens in a manner that's often uproarious, yet ultimately offers a stinging commentary on the narcissism that grips our social media-fueled world.
An aspiring writer, Danni finds that none of her ideas really spark much enthusiasm from the editors at the website where she works. Her love life is just as depressing. She yearns to get the attention of colleague Colin (Dylan O'Brien), one of those “cool” young dudes whose personality is really just a culturally appropriated affectation. To make her life seem more exciting, Danni fakes a trip to Paris, doctoring stylish pictures for her Instagram account to appear as though she's having the time of her life. Then a series of terrorist bombings takes place in the city, leaving many innocent people dead. Does she pretend to have narrowly escaped one of those bombings, just to get attention? Of course she does.
Upon “returning home,” everyone treats her differently. They want to know about the attack, about what she saw, about how she survived. Social media stardom follows. Danni cheerfully stacks lie upon lie, soaking up the interest of those around her and in her online sphere. She even attends a support group where she meets Rowan (newcomer Mia Isaac, in a scorching performance), a school shooting survivor-turned-activist who really has been through trauma. Not Okay tracks how their friendship changes Danni, as well as what happens when her big lie is exposed.
Early scenes in the movie are shockingly funny, as we witness the magnitude of Danni's shallowness and the lengths to which she'll stoop to get people to pay attention to her, including exploiting terrorism for her own benefit. Deutch is hilarious in conveying the vapidity of a woman who measures her self-worth by her number of followers. What we realize about her is that there's no substance. For whatever reason, Danni has simply never matured, never experienced anything that has allowed her to grow. This, in turn, has made her bold in her cluelessness. Deutch portrays that fearlessly. Dylan O'Brien earns laughs, too, playing Colin as a guy completely enchanted by his own poser status.
The back half of Not Okay grows more serious, as Danni comes to understand people like Rowan have been through legitimately traumatizing events far worse than being ignored by a cute coworker or not being viewed as stylish. It might have been interesting for the story to stay in comedic mode, but I think it kind of needs to go this direction. The whole concept is designed to show how Danni learns the world does not revolve around her, that others have been shaped, changed, and transformed by unpleasant events she has been shielded from. Writer/director Quinn Shephard skillfully adjusts the movie's tone so that we can comprehend Danni's gradual awakening. Deutch then picks up the ball and runs with it, making that awakening feel authentic.
Not Okay is great because it's a film with something to say. Shephard never pulls back from calling out the backwards, regressive thinking that continues to seep into society. My favorite thing about the picture is the very last scene, which I won't divulge. It really seemed like the ending was moving toward the creakiest of the “personal growth” clichés, the climactic confessional speech. Right when that seems poised to occur, Danni does something unexpected, and what she does proves her change to us far more powerfully than any manufactured monologue ever could have. True insight is embedded into that final shot, leaving viewers with a lot to think about afterward. It's a smart moment in an intelligent, impassioned movie.
out of four
Not Okay is rated R for language throughout, drug use, and some sexual content. The running time is 1 hour and 40 minutes.