When watching Quinn Shephard’s Not Okay, it may feel familiar to another movie that came out last year based on a popular Broadway show of the same name. The plot is so eerily similar, but with a wider net of emotional baggage and trauma-inducing cringe. But there is one thing Not Okay does better; it assures you that under no circumstances are you supposed to feel for or care about the main character. She is meant to be hated, and Zoey Deutch understands that aspect better than anticipated and delivers the performance needed to carry Not Okay into critical praise.
The film focuses on Danni Sanders (Zoey Deutch) whose cat inadvertently sets off everything that goes on throughout the film. Danni just wants to feel like she fits in and to become popular and live a more lavish life than she does. With her cat walking across her keyboard she soon realizes she can photoshop herself into photos and plants herself into Paris. Harmless enough, right? That is until there is an unspeakably horrific terrorist attack in Paris and Danni soon discovers she is now painted into a corner after faking being in Paris and has to pretend to be okay. An easier solution would have been to state she was nowhere near the attacks, took the train to literally anywhere else in Europe, or simply confess she just wanted to pretend to live an exciting life and never in fact left her home. Instead of doing any of those reasonable things, she decides to paint herself as a victim, a survivor of the attacks, and is now obsessed with her new rise to fame. Since she’s become this “survivor,” the man, Colin (Dylan O’Brien), finally starts to pay attention to Danni and she continues the charade so she can fulfil her desires of being with him, even if under fake pretenses.
Outside of pretending to be a victim, Danni hasn’t done any irreversible damage. That is until she wants to make an article and speak about her experience of being a victim and a survivor of terrorism. This is when Danni becomes public enemy number one, and with good reason. She starts sitting in on victim support groups, trying to create a better story for herself and really “lose herself” in the “role” she is playing. This is where she meets Rowan (Mia Isaac), a real victim of a senseless school shooting. As their relationship blooms, Danni becomes more integrated in the victim and survivor programs, protests, and assemblies to help other survivors, which truly makes her even more despicable.
To love the way an actor portrays a character is easy if it’s a fun, outgoing, energetic character. The actor just has to portray that and it can be easy for the audience to sink their teeth into and resonate with the character. However, to be a villain, and garner that status of sheer hatred with the audience wishing for bad things to happen to the character is a much harder feat to accomplish. There are a few villains that come to mind that, while not traditional villains, certainly cast that dark embrace of evil — Hans Gruber as Alan Rickman and Miranda Priestly played by Meryl Streep. Zoey Deutch’s portrayal of Danni Sanders is embedded in as much villainy and seditious hatred as the aforementioned characters, and Deutch does it justice. She excels at being truly awful and evil.
On the other hand of this horrible coin is Mia Isaac who is the embodiment and persona of every single person who’s a victim, a survivor, and portrays the character in such an unrelenting realism that it will shake the audience to their core. There have been more preventable catastrophes in the last few years than I honestly care to think about and seeing a character who experienced such tragedy brought to life with such conviction, emotion, and passion just destroys every ounce of humanity in you. These are adults and children who have to face the reality of living with these senseless tragedies day in and day out because the system has failed everyone, and Mia Isaac portrays he character of Rowan so gracefully and creates such a juxtaposition between Rowan and Danni that it feels like the embodiment of good versus evil.
Not Okay tells the story of one girl’s dream to live a better life than the one she currently has, gets caught in a web of lies, and, instead of brushing it away, decides to make things astronomically worse. The completely avoidable detestation that she brings onto herself while destroying already damaged lives makes Danni Sanders a true villain. The performances from both leads in Zoey Deutch and Mia Isaac carry the movie from writer/director Quinn Shephard to uncomfortable heights, sparking a debate about politics, social media, and the fame that is all too easy to obtain at the cost of hurting whomever and whatever stands in the way of achieving what is important in this modern age. Not Okay could simply be a title for a film or a general egregious cry into the empty void in the world we are currently finding ourselves living in.
Available for streaming on Hulu July 29th, 2022.
For more information, head to Searchlight Pictures’s Not Okay webpage.
Final Score: 4 out of 5.