By Sheroog Kubur, September 9 2022—
Not Okay is the 2022 satire film against the modern obsession with internet fame. It tells the story of Danni Saunders (Zoey Deutch), a young z-lennial living in New York that fakes a trip to Paris at the time of a devastating terrorist attack. Upon her return, she keeps up the charade of being present at the time of the attack until the lie begins to crumble around her. While on the surface, the plot is nothing more than a commentary on the lengths people will go to for internet clout — à la Logan Paul filming dead bodies in Japan’s Aokigahara forest — the film itself manages to be one of the most nuanced takes on how the digital world can corrupt an individual.
Saunders is an insufferable character, but no more than most of the other characters in the film. She is a photo editor at Depravity, a fictional life and culture magazine. Despite her stable position and wealthy parents, she is impressively out of touch. The opening scene shows her presenting a piece about how she is regretful that she was too young to experience life during the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, cementing her as comically out of touch. Combining this with some cringey mannerisms, and she easily becomes a hated character.
However, the people around her are insufferable as well. Her coworkers are just as fame obsessed as she is, only embracing her after she gains fame from her article. Her love interest in the film, Colin (Dylan O’Brien), is a white man with a blaccent and a saviour complex. The coworker that exposed Saunders’s lie only did so because she was jealous of her newfound fame. Most characters are annoying and, unsurprisingly, morally depraved to some extent.
Her progression in the story is pathetic. By the end of the film, she’s bullied relentlessly, with some internet personalities going so far as to doxx her. We can agree what she did was objectively wrong, but seeing her treatment during the fallout is harrowing. In one of the scenes during the fallout, she’s harassed by an ex-Marine while in a convenience store. As a viewer, you have to ask — at what point is it taken too far?
Despite how unbearable Saunders is throughout the film and how cringey some moments may feel, she’s still a person. You’re forced to see the complete story of her actions, from the moment of her concepting the lie to the moment she decides to make amends with her actions. It doesn’t simply stop at the reveal, it shows Saunders dealing with becoming a public villain.
Saunders isn’t humanized until after fallout — then we see the real-life effects of public humiliation and shaming. As an audience, is this enough to make us feel bad for her? At what point does Saunders turn back into a young adult from a public figure?
The story doesn’t end with a resolution but instead with Rowan Aldren (Mia Isaac) reciting a poem about her betrayal. It’s in this scene that the film’s message truly comes to light — despite Saunders being the main character, this story isn’t about her. It’s about how desensitized we have become to the world around us and the lengths that it would take to realize the severity of it. Saunders is the most extreme case of a shockingly common phenomenon — forgetting that there are real people behind those screens. It’s easy to take the moral high ground and say that this story doesn’t apply to non-internet influencers, but that sentiment neglects that spending hours living life through a screen corrupts us all in some way, regardless of if we recognize it or not.
Most commentaries on social media are reduced to surface-level approaches to the platform — the generic take that our generation is doomed because we care more about the numbers than substance and we will all become narcissistic zombies vying for the attention of others. Not Okay shows that the world keeps spinning outside of the confines of social media and the consequences to everything that happens within it. As social media users, the film makes us painfully aware of these things, regardless of the number of followers you have.