On Disney Plus: Not Okay, the razor-sharp fake news satire from up-and-coming director Quinn Shephard.
In the streaming medium, films usually no longer begin with roaring lions, torch-bearing statues or the Disneyland castle. They start with so-called trigger warnings. Here it is flashes of light, traumatizing experiences and “an unsympathetic female protagonist”. Thanks for the warning. Can we bear this?
The latter is of course a joke, but with a kernel of truth. Because problems in films are less caused by the declared villains like Dracula or Hannibal Lecter, but by those unsympathetic people who are actually meant to be sympathetic. Especially in the genre of zeitgeist comedy, which is so popular in Germany, it’s not uncommon that you don’t want to make friends with anyone in the whole ensemble.
The only 27-year-old director Quinn Shephard (“Blame”), who wrote her first film at the age of 15, saves herself a long exposure with the small warning. So let’s not be surprised by this author-wannabe Danny Sanders, impressively portrayed by Zoey Deutch, and get ready to spend a whole movie with her. It might be worth it.
Born into the upper middle class in New York, she lacks nothing – apart from that excess of love that successful internet personalities are supposedly met with a hundred thousand times over. At work – she’s the photo editor of a hip online magazine – she admires cool travel and cannabis blogger Colin (Dylan O’Brien). Even her queer colleagues envy her supposed privileges, since they even run their own bowling club, which is banned for “hetists”. “Yes, it’s great to belong to a minority,” she replies bitterly and ironically. That’s exactly what Danny Sanders really envies those around her for: coolness and quick-wittedness.
She lacks empathy even more, but that can be articulated rather poorly in the language of emojis. Conversely, there’s little to envy the narcissistic Danny Sanders. In an article rejected by the editor-in-chief, she even regrets having missed “Nine Eleven” – so she misses an experience that connects her generation. Four letters are enough for her to describe her suffering: FOMO – fear of missing out.
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But fate plays into her hands: Just as she is about to be thrown out, she finds a topic that immediately makes her famous as a blogger – albeit an invented one. Just as she is faking a Paris vacation with Photoshop montages for her few followers, terrorist attacks occur there. She stylizes herself as a survivor. But that’s not all the deception: At a self-help group for traumatized people, she meets the teenager Rowan, survivor of a school attack and anti-gun activist. She flatters her trust – and immediately steals the central sentence from one of her touchingly personal poems: “I am not okay” is now Danny’s hashtag, which has been shared a hundred thousand times. Rowan, played with particular intensity by Mia Isaac, is gullible enough to share Danny’s plagiarism – after all, one feels solidarity with the (supposed) victims.
This is where the somewhat exaggerated media satire begins to become something else, a double character study touching solely through the qualities of two young actresses. The fact that Danny tries to turn the false friendship into a true one will do her little good. As the first frames of the film reveal, their edifice of lies is doomed to fail. Like the sorcerer’s apprentice, she is drowning in the flood that triggered her – because the online crowd’s protestations of love have turned into unbridled hatred.
It’s rare enough to see a feature film about a youth phenomenon whose author is well under thirty herself. A lot of things seem unusually well observed: the modern workspace of the online editorial office with its seemingly colorful and friendly group room idyll – and the all the more coveted individual offices for the hierarchs. The monetization of protest culture is also very well captured, often only a few reverse shots are enough for the director to capture social contrasts that remain hidden from the protagonist.
And staying with a largely immobile unsympathetic is an unusual experience. In classic Hollywood cinema, at the latest, the end of the second act would have initiated a purification. But here, too, the filmmaker maintains a pessimism that is rare for an industrial US feature film. Because let’s be honest: What has changed since the lying journalist Relotius was exposed? Heartfelt human-touch reports – even if they are perhaps no longer invented in private – are still in fashion.
Not Okay. USA 2022. Regie: Quinn Shephard. 100 Min. Disney Plus.