Released: 29th July
Seen: 24th August
As much as we might like to pretend it isn’t, the online world is just as important to us as the offline world. Online bullying, doxing, cyber-stalking, these are things that have a real-world impact on people even though the victim and perpetrator might never even be on the same continent. There used to be a time when the sage wisdom when you were a victim of this online harassment was to just turn the computer off, it’ll all go away if you just turn it off… but that’s not true. An online dogpile can destroy you, can ruin your life and drive you to unthinkable places. This has been the reality that Gen Z has been well aware of as they live in that world, they know its true power and it was inevitable that someone of that generation would use that to influence a great work of art, and in Not Okay we have that.
Not Okay follows Danni Sanders (Zoey Deutch), a photo editor and writer for the prestigious online newspaper Depravity. She lives a fairly simple life, living in a pretty nice apartment in Brooklyn and can seemingly manage to live on an internet writer’s salary but what she doesn’t seem to have is that many friends, or the ability to move up in her company. After running into online influencer Colin (Dylan O’Brien), Danni finally decides to try and do something that might impress enough people to get her noticed and so she announces she’s going for a writers retreat in Paris.
Of course, she doesn’t actually go to Paris, using her Photoshop skills to fake a trip to France from the comfort of her apartment. All seems to be going well until Danni posts a photo she faked of herself outside the Arc de Triomphe and posts it… a few minutes before an actual terrorist attack in Paris destroys the Arc de Triomphe, leading everyone to believe that Danni was there when the event happened. Caught up in the moment, instead of admitting to what really happened, Danni plays along and soon becomes entangled in a world of survivors of terrorist attacks, even befriending a girl named Rowan Aldren (Mia Isaac) who was a survivor of a school shooting that now fights for strong gun legislation. Danni slowly starts to use this horror to improve her own career, but who knows when she’ll be found out and face the internet’s brutal wrath?
Starting with a glimpse of what’s to come, Not Okay is a pitch-black comedy that takes no prisoners. It calls out the insanity of the internet, the cruelty of the alt-right, the piety of white liberals who try way too hard and everything in between. Its lead character is the kind of person who you can tell means well on some level but is so wrapped up in her own privilege that she can’t really see who she’s hurting with what she says and does. Not Okay challenges the audience with the main character being so unlikeable you almost want her to be exposed so she can suffer for her actions… which makes it so impressive when that suffering happens and you quickly realise that no one, not even someone as bad as Danni, deserves this kind of treatment.
Not Okay excels most once it introduces Rowan which is when we really get to the meat of the film, the moment when we can put Danni’s fake trauma up against real trauma and see the difference. We can see how Danni’s treated in comparison to Rowan, showing how a white woman with an easily checkable fake story is instantly believed while a person of colour who is an actual victim can easily be ignored. If anything, Rowan is the only person in this entire film who doesn’t come out looking like a jerk (which makes sense, she’s the one who actually had to deal with serious trauma and gets the importance of her actions) and it creates a fascinating dynamic. We see a real victim trying to make a change, only to have the fake victim steal her slogans and become famous.
Even when the inevitable happens and Not Okay spins around back to that aftermath, we get to talk about the extreme elements of internet backlash that can end in people having their addresses leaked, their lives ruined and people accosting them on the street. It doesn’t shy away from the dark parts of the internet and portrays them so powerfully that even though it happened to an awful person who undoubtedly deserves some kind of comeuppance, it’s still brutal to watch… oh and all of this heartbreaking stuff is done while the film revels in its dark comedy, mixing the tones of light and dark in a way that often works.
Sometimes this tone mixing doesn’t quite work, there are times when Not Okay could go so much further with what it’s trying to do and be even bolder with the kind of jokes it’s telling. There’s a serious drop in extremity after we deal with the whole “She’s lying about being a victim of terrorism” thing, and admittedly that’s a high bar to hit again in terms of pure shock but if you’re going to go there then actually go there. It’s already bold enough that your main character is an asshole who might never actually change, might as well just go for broke at that point.
Not Okay shows the darker side of modern internet culture in a way few other films have and it’s wildly fascinating. While it doesn’t always work and you can tell there was more that could be done with the material, what’s shown is something that is going to ring very true to those of us who are terminally online. It might not work for everyone, indeed an entire story about someone faking trauma for internet brownie points might be a bit much for some people even though she’ll obviously get her just desserts at some point, but for those who wanted a dark comedic critique on the nature of internet fame that’s derived from horrific events then this is going to have something for you… even if it just pisses you off that this is tame compared to the shit some people actually get away with online.