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Not Okay is a horror movie for the influencer age

The Hulu film, out July 29 and starring Zoey Deutch, is a darkly apt satirization of internet culture.

Danni Sanders, pretending to be in Paris.
Rebecca Jennings is a senior correspondent covering social platforms and the creator economy. Since joining Vox in 2018, her work has explored the rise of TikTok, internet aesthetics, and the pursuit of money and fame online. You can sign up for her biweekly Vox Culture newsletter here.

At first glance, Danni Sanders, the protagonist of the Hulu film Not Okay, reads like a modern rom-com everywoman: She’s lonely, depressed, her career is stalling, she eats junk food and drinks too much (despite, like nearly all rom-com heroines, being extremely thin and traditionally hot), her helicopter parents coddle her, and yet she’s starved for attention. Unfortunately for her, however, Danni Sanders does not get the Bridget Jones redemption arc. Instead, Not Okay more closely mirrors Dear Evan Hansen, in that it’s about a deeply unlikeable person who does something so morally despicable that you become increasingly convinced she can’t possibly redeem herself. Spoiler: She doesn’t!

Not Okay is not the first film to satirize the age of influencers, but it is easily the most unsettling. The setup is this: Danni, played with eerie believability by Zoey Deutch, is a photo editor at a Refinery29-meets-BuzzFeed-esque media property called Depravity. Her office is filled with very cool and mean gays who rightfully see her behavior as off-putting and weird. (In an elevator one day, she asks two characters what they’re doing after work; they tell her they’re going to a queer bowling event. Danni replies: “Yas queen, slay! I’ll probably drink alone in my apartment until I black out and call my old best friend from high school or something. You guys are so lucky, you have a community, a parade, you get to go bowling!”)

Danni’s ultimate dream is to write, despite not having much to say. When she pitches an article called “Why Am I So Sad?” her editor rejects it on the grounds that it’s completely tone-deaf (“Can’t tone-deaf be, like, a brand? Like Lena Dunham?” she protests). Meanwhile, her professional nemesis, well-respected reporter Harper, mentions she’s applying for a writer’s retreat in Paris, so naturally, Danni pretends that she’s also going on a Parisian writer’s retreat by making a fake website for a nonexistent program. Rather than actually go, though, she Photoshops pictures of herself at random French landmarks to impress her boss, Harper, her followers, and her office’s token grungy e-boy stoner YouTuber, Colin (Dylan O’Brien). Yet only a few minutes after she posts an Instagram at the Arc de Triomphe, a terrorist attack hits, and she’s bombarded with “are you okay?” messages. In response, she posts a standard IG Story response: “Im ok and safe. I don’t have reliable service yet but please know I am alright. Devastated for those who are not.”

As the world grieves, Danni is rewarded with everything she’s always wanted: professional respect, attention from her crush, and minor celebrity in the form of a viral article and subsequent hashtag called “I Am Not Okay” about what it was like to witness the attacks. At a support group for survivors of mass violence, which she attends in order to mine the members for their trauma, she meets Rowan (Mia Isaac), a teenage school shooting survivor turned gun control activist. And this is where it gets truly dark.

Envious of Rowan’s success as an activist-influencer, Danni rides on her coattails by first befriending her, then co-writing a speech and joining her onstage at a rally. When Danni’s big lie falls apart and she gets subsequently canceled, Rowan’s reputation takes a hit, too. The film’s final scene is a poetry slam at which Rowan discusses the effect it’s had on her, and the unfairness of it all. “Why do people like you get movies on Netflix and Hulu and people like me get told to sit tight and wait for change?” she asks.

Danni and Rowan at an anti-gun violence rally.

The problem with this bit of meta-critique is that the film already knows the answer to that: It’s because one of those things (undoing centuries of pro-gun policies) feels depressing and impossible and the other one (watching movies about influencers) is easy and allows us to jeer at callous, desperate idiocy. While the film tries to emphasize the emptiness of professional Instagrammers through Danni’s dangerous obsession with clout and Colin’s general dimwittedness, the message might be more effective if it didn’t include, say, multiple sympathetic cameos of Caroline Calloway, an influencer with delusions of grandeur known for courting attention at all costs.

It’s a tough line that the movie doesn’t always succeed in walking, particularly considering that Not Okay pits a privileged white woman’s own victim complex against a young Black girl’s actual victimhood, and there’s a lot more at stake here than just follower counts. But ultimately, the landing sticks: Even if the last third of the movie feels tonally off and uncomfortable, that’s kind of the point. This isn’t a movie about Danni rehabilitating her image, it’s a movie about what happens when you make your own misery and narcissism everyone else’s problem. It was never going to have a happy ending.

I hope that Not Okay (out July 29 on Hulu) finds its audience, and that there’ll be more movies satirizing the creator economy that say something stronger than simply “This is all pretty stupid, huh?” Perhaps it’s the start of a new rom-com formula: Rather than seeking romantic love to fill the gaping void in our protagonist’s life, she’ll try getting famous instead, and, one assumes, realize that celebrity isn’t the silver bullet to happiness that getting married to the first guy who gives you the time of day is, either. Calling it now: In the fourth Bridget Jones movie, she and Colin Firth start an OnlyFans.

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