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Film Review: ‘Not Okay’ is Another Showcase for Zoey Deutch’s Acting and Quinn Shephard’s Filmmaking

Searchlight Pictures
Searchlight Pictures

It’s hard not to be blown away by both Zoey Deutch and Quinn Shephard. One is an actress at the height of her young powers, while the other is an emerging filmmaking force. With Not Okay, they come together in a wildly entertaining and deeply satirical manner. Well acted, very funny, and with a surprisingly compelling emotional core, there’s a full cinematic meal within this flick. Consider this movie one of the summer’s bigger surprises, not because of what it is (I always assumed it would be good), but because of what it’s not, and considering the potential landmines here, that’s not nothing.

Not Okay is equally adept at skewering social media influencers and exploring the genuine emotion of survivor’s trauma. That doesn’t seem like it should work, but Deutch, Shephard, and company are more than up to the task. The first act goes heavier on the comedy and the third act goes heavier on the drama, so during the middle, when the needle is being threaded, you start to realize just how special this film really is. By the end, you realize that this is more or less a one of a kind movie, in the best way.

Searchlight Pictures

Danni Sanders (Deutch) wants to be Instagram famous, or at the very least, a famous writer. For now, she’s a photo editor, one without any friends or follows on social media. Disliked by her co-workers, including the straight-laced Harper (Nadia Alexander), she just needs an in that will allow her to be the beloved influencer she feels she deserves to be. Almost by accident, she figures out that instead of waiting for an invite to an influencer event or a writer’s workshop, she can just fake one. In short order, Danni has doctored a trip to Paris. It’s harmless enough, and even seems to be working. Then, a serious of terrorist attacks strike the City of Lights, which she finds herself in the middle of. Instead of just being on an Instagram-friendly getaway, she’s now the symbol of surviving the attack. In short order, she furthers the lie, becoming everything she’s always wanted to be.

As stardom shines down upon her, Danni striking up a surprising friendship with a school-shooting survivor in Rowan (Mia Isaac), who is working to advocate for change, while also attracting the romantic attention of vapid influencer Colin (Dylan O’Brien). Things seem great, and it’s actually helping to make Danni a better person. Of course, it’s only a matter of time before the other shoe drops, and when it does, she’ll see a whole other side of the internet. Worse still, she’ll 100% deserve the bile headed her way.

Searchlight Pictures

Zoey Deutch has rarely been better here, with a terrific central role to sink her teeth into, while Mia Isaac confirms that Don’t Make Me Go was no fluke. Isaac has the heavier role and plays it with aplomb. Deutch is the star though, playing a character that stands tall with her creations in Buffaloed and Flower. Few actresses are as willing and eager to dive into characters like this, and our cinematic world is all the better for it. Deutch is fearless and deserves legitimate awards attention for this turn. Nadia Alexander and Dylan O’Brien have smaller roles but make the most of them, with the former being the rational anchor, while the latter gets to go big and be silly. Supporting players include Brennan Brown, Embeth Davidtz, Karan Soni, and more.

Writer/director Quinn Shephard announced herself as a 22 year old directing talent with Blame back in 2018, but she raises her game here. Not Okay has all of the confidence and skill of Blame, but with larger scale, an even darker outlook, and a newfound handle on comedy. Casting Deutch and Isaac was an aces move on her part, but her commitment to exploring an unlikable central character is just as worthy of kudos.

Not Okay is more than just okay, it’s great. With tremendous work from Deutch and Isaac, as well as more compelling filmmaking from Shephard, there’s a ton to sink your teeth into here. Taking the story to its logical end point highlights the talents of all three, making you eager to see so much more from each of them. This is a terrific movie, one you shouldn’t sleep on. Don’t miss it!

SCORE: ★★★1/2

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Written by Joey Magidson

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