Deutch is aspiring writer Danni Sanders. Her photo editor job at the Buzzfeed-esque website Depravity has yet to help her advance to writer status, as her story pitches fall on deaf ears. Aimless, with no friends, she is desperate to catch the eye of Colin (Dylan O’Brien), the coolest guy in the office, even if he is constantly enveloped in a Vape cloud.
She’s invisible, even on social media.
“Have you ever wanted to be noticed so badly,” she says, “you didn’t even care what it was for? You wake up every day thinking, ‘I want to be seen. I want to be important. I want to have purpose. I want to be known. I want to be loved. I want to matter.’”
To find meaning, purpose and maybe get a few extra followers on social media, she concocts a goofy plan to post faked photos from an imaginary Paris trip to glam up her Instagram account. She photoshops herself in front of the Arc de Triomphe, creates a backstory about being invited to a writer’s retreat in the City of Lights and writes captions like, “Starting my morning right. Now where is my baguette?”
But then real-life tragedy strikes in the form of terror attacks around Paris and all of a sudden, Danni goes from zero to hero. Her account is flooded with comments. “I can’t believe you posted that photograph five minutes before the bombs hit,” writes a concerned follower. “I mean, what if it had been five minutes later? Could you even imagine?”
Danni enjoys the attention, and goes with the flow. She “returns” to the United States and her job as a “survivor,” with a new confident attitude and faux PTSD. As her online fame grows, she befriends school-shooting survivor Rowan (Mia Isaac), leeching off the activist’s popularity. Even Colin now finds her the most interesting person in the room.
Her dreams come true, but, she says, “be careful what you wish for,” as her lies spirals out of control.
“Not Okay” is a social satire that takes aim at the curated life of Instagram influencers and the dark side of the artificial fame of an on-line life. The attention starved user who fabricates a story for money or notoriety, is a ripped-from-the-headlines premise, one that frequently plays itself out in one way or another on social media, but it lays the foundation for the character work done by Deutch and Isaac.
Deutch doesn’t make Danni sympathetic, but somehow makes her actions understandable. Through the performance it is easy to see how this lonely, directionless young woman got caught up in the lust for acknowledgement. The story may be shallow but Deutch’s performance reveals layers.
Contrasting Danni’s wanton ambition is Rowan’s heartfelt crusade for awareness. As a school shooting survivor Rowan is a combustible combination of trauma and anger, and Isaac embodies the earnestness and fear that comes with that lived experience.
“Not Okay” isn’t as hard hitting as it thinks it is. As a breezy look at the social media manipulation it treads familiar ground, but its ingrained sense of humor and performances make it worth a look.