The following contains minor spoilers for Not Okay, a new movie now streaming on Hulu
If you spend way too much of your life on the internet like I do, you’ve probably heard of Caroline Calloway, the instagram influencer who made a living by scamming her audience. Now, imagine that instead of posting long winded captions and promoting a bizarre product line, Calloway instead pretended that she was the victim of severe trauma to get attention.
That’s essentially what happens in Not Okay, a movie that asks the brave question: in 2022, is it okay to write a self absorbed white woman character if you’re self aware that she’s a self absorbed white woman character? The answer, it appears, is that you can. It’s still unclear whether or not you should.
Danni Sanders (Zoey Deutch) is struggling to try to start her writing career when she gets the idea to fake a writers retreat to Paris by photoshopping Instagram photos in order to impress a guy (Dylan O’Brien). It all seems to be going according to plan until a terrorist attack happens in Paris just minutes after she posts a photo from the same location. Anyone else would have been forced to cop to the lie of photoshopping their Instagram posts (or else just stayed silent online for a few weeks) but Danni, who had just days earlier pitched an article where she expressed FOMO over not being in New York for 9/11, doubled down on the lie. Pretending to be there was convenient for her. Not only did she finally get to publish an article online, but she befriended fellow trauma survivor Rowan (Mia Isaac), a 17 year old who became a well known activist after a shooting happened at her school.
That’s a lot of background, but it’s important that you understand exactly how fucked up Danni is for you to understand why this movie was as terrible as it was. The acting, particularly be Isaac, was incredible. I have no issue with the quality of the film in that regard. Instead, my issue lies in the fundamental concept of what they were trying to do with this movie.
In order for a film such as this to be successful, it has to have a point. As it stands, the point of this movie ended up being that if you try to center yourself in a global issue that didn’t even really affect you, you’ll end up falling from grace eventually. The movie ended up just saying “don’t lie”. It would have been a more effective movie had Danni actually gone to Paris and seen the attacks, and then chose to center herself in an issue where she was clearly less harmed than many of the other people in the situation. Maybe then the fact that we had to sit through two hours of an absolutely insufferable main character would be okay. Instead, we saw that nobody cared at all when Danni posted “flawless skin!!!” on a video of Rowan protesting gun laws. It was only when they found out that she hadn’t even been there at all that she was hurt.
There were also problematic moments that I don’t think the movie intended. The two gay characters were both stereotypes with no solid character development. Rowan is in an acting group called Act Up, with no evident understanding that Act Up is actually an AIDS activism group and it’s quite weird for that to be the name of her acting troupe.
Every single minute of this movie, minus the ones where Rowan was giving her impassioned speeches, was nearly too uncomfortable to watch. Danni sucked, the movie knew she sucked, and yet it still hinged its enjoyability upon us sympathizing to the character in some way. There was not enough there for it to be a pure satire, given the way it floated in and out of real issues with no clear distinctions. Had it leaned into that more, maybe it would have been purely amusing. But instead, it chose to to take itself seriously in all of the wrong moments, and because there were no stakes for us as an audience, the film fell flat.