The intricacies of online cancel culture, appropriation and white privilege are easy fodder for a satire. In a world where laughter is the best way to force the medicine down lest we start a war of the words, an opinion on cultural politics is best served as a caricature of itself, but one that still gets to the heart of its observations. That is where Hulu’s satirical romp Not Okay succeeds in spades. The film is accurate to what it’s portraying, from internet takedowns to Gen Z culture to digital media—and its main focus, the insidious encroachment of white feminism on different facets of the marginalized experience, is particularly laser-focused. The movie is an incessant interrogation of what our young people are becoming, what they want and what the rules are to get it, yet its humor and humility make it stand out as one of the better recent satires.
Not Okay follows Danni (Zoey Deutch), a Caroline Calloway-obsessed, Gen Z, aspiring writer, as she navigates New York. She’s got no friends, no prospects and a dead-end day job as a photo editor for a popular magazine she’d rather be writing for. In a desperate bid for the attention of hot, culturally-appropriating weed blogger Colin (Dylan O’Brien), she fakes a trip to Paris for an exclusive writer’s retreat and shares the whole stay via Instagram, with doctored photos and everything. It all seems to have gone according to plan until tragedy strikes Paris in a way no one expected—and Danni is forced to incorporate it into her ruse, leading to unfettered access to the attention economy she so desperately sought.
The second feature helmed and written by actor Quinn Shephard, Not Okay is well directed, choreographed and paced. You’d think a film in nine parts would be overkill, but it’s easily digestible and each section is justified in its break. It’s also a great dramatic framing device, forcing the audience to zero in on the movie’s focal points and main beats. Not Okay becomes a rabbit hole you’re forced to go down, like we all are in the age of social media. A story like this is supposed to come off as stranger than fiction, and it basically is, but the movie is ultimately quite believable, too, which gives its satirical lens power. It holds up in today’s sociopolitical landscape and isn’t that far off from the weird power-play dynamics we see in influencer culture, cancel culture and just about every other “culture” worth talking about nowadays. Despite being exaggerated, it’s in line with our attention-starved and bizarre little world.
Not Okay is also blatantly true to its subjects. Deutch, O’Brien and Mia Isaac, who plays influencer-activist Rowan, do a seamless job of embodying their archetypal Gen Z personas. It’s clear they each deeply understand the core of these stereotypes and the best choices they can make as actors to satirize them. O’Brien toes the line between sweet and insufferable, Deutch is both well-meaning and blissfully ignorant and Isaac has a determined fierceness that can only come from being shattered and rebuilt by tragedy and trauma. But it isn’t just their performances that gives the audience a sense of exactly what is being roasted in this comedy; the production and costume design are ridiculously tapped into this specific slice of cultural trends it is meant to play with. Danni’s style is a great example of this: Deutch rocks trendy-as-hell labels like Miaou and House of Sunny, and wears her hair with blonde highlights framing her face. Even the signature red beret and blue Reformation dress combo she wears is a harbinger to the cliched subculture that is Gen Z’s world. That said, what’s in is in, even if you don’t like it, and this film is great at highlighting that while staying true to trends.
There is, of course, such a thing as being too on the nose. Real-life scamster Calloway has a small cameo at the end, and it has to be mentioned because it comes at a time when its inclusion negates the movie’s point. Up until then, Not Okay keeps its satirical subject at arm’s length by approaching it from a bigger and bolder place. The inclusion of Calloway, who brings absolutely nothing to the movie, pulls us out of its satirical headspace and hits the nail too firmly on the head. Calloway gets screentime twice earlier in the film—both times when Danni is watching her YouTube videos—and Danni is most effective when it’s clear she has been molded in Calloway’s image. However, we don’t need to see the influencer in the flesh for that to be effective, and her tense acting hangs over one of the film’s final scenes like an opaque shadow. Hints of her in YouTube videos throughout the movie is the perfect way to establish her influence, but her actual inclusion sours the concept.
That said, Not Okay redeems itself right after that misstep with a consequence-laden and unconventional ending. This unsatisfying, realistic finale lands the satire in full. We’ve been exposed to the realities of what’s being parodied, both with comedic and dramatic tactics at play—and the message has stayed consistent throughout. Its final moments double down on the statement being made, but it’s one that needs reiterating. After all, not everyone gets an opportunity to come back from a cancellation—we all know that by now. What Not Okay examines is the price of the societal second chance, something that few, least of all Deutch’s Danni, are actually worth affording.
Director: Quinn Shephard
Writer: Quinn Shephard
Stars: Zoey Deutch, Dylan O’Brien, Mia Isaac, Nadia Alexander
Release Date: July 29, 2022 (Hulu)
Lex Briscuso is an entertainment, film and culture writer who eats, sleeps, and breathes exceptional horror, sweeping dramas, and top-notch acting. She is a news desk writer at /Film and has bylines at FANGORIA, The Guardian, Shudder’s The Bite and EUPHORIA. Her horror radio show, YOUR NICHE IS DEAD, is live Mondays 5pm ET. She tweets @nikonamerica.