Where influencers may strive for the public lifestyle, to be picked apart by strangers envious or jealous of their material possessions, what is the end goal? For some, it is the fame of the every day where others are a desperate clamour to keep something personal or professional afloat. Not Okay from director Quinn Shephard feels like a staggering blend of the two that incorporates a few lines of note from journalist Jon Ronson’s seminal piece, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, a book that provides Shephard with an outline to build from. But this is fiction. A spillover, an explosive one at that that moves far beyond what can be expected of the everyday oddities, was soon to follow. That is where Not Okay prospers, flies and falls with fatalistic, interesting results.
Zoey Deutch continues her trend of appearing in strong dramatic pieces and getting vaguely little fanfare for it. Between this, The Outfit and the lightly defined Set It Up from Netflix, it is hard to imagine a more unheard actor worthy of championing. Her role as trying influencer Danni Sanders relies not just on an understanding of what makes the Instagram reels so clickable and watchable, but why they are created. What little buzz of serotonin viewers receive in seeing the sunny sights of Paris, or, what they believe is Paris. The bait and switch so constantly relied upon in Not Okay, which sees excellent supporting work from Dylan O’Brien and Mia Isaac, is in its perception of what is real and what is not. Audiences see the line blurred so clearly, but could easily be convinced otherwise. The reality depicted by Sanders and the actual world combine at the best of times and make for a sinister, if provocative, pairing.
Not Okay explores the very real side of what Ronson’s work detailed but from a sinister perspective. What if the public shaming was deserved? At the core of Not Okay is the desire to impress taken too far. It is the active participant in the unravelling of social media shame that feels deserved, rather than an out-of-proportion response from idle, bored web users. An accountable bait and switch dissected and pulled into the spotlight through a very possible, very horrifying fictional event. Shephard’s direction does well to respond to the usual highs and lows of a black comedy, but the drama takes centre stage and it is difficult to distract from the ruptured social life and the slow burn that feels like an inevitable lesson, rather than a shock reveal.
There is a sense at times throughout Not Okay that the lie has grown too big, too quickly. It can do little to reign it in or pull it back at the necessary or appropriately paced time. Is that an intense and focused decision? To replicate the spiral of a publicly shamed individual who tweeted a joke in poor taste but to an extreme, the life-changing level is an intense and interesting discovery Not Okay never quite hones in on. It jumps its shark knowing full well that doing so is the only way to sell itself and the message at the heart of it all to its audiences. What it does not chart is the recovery or potential for it further down the line. It doesn’t have the time. Desire for importance, the understanding of how far some will go to reach the heights they set for themselves, not the level their talents or lack thereof deserve. A warning, not a lesson.