Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Not Okay on Hulu review: Zoey Deutch stars in influencer-era horror movie

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At first glance Danni Sanders, the main character of the Hulu movie Not alright, reads like a modern rom-com everyone: she’s lonely, depressed, her career stalls, she eats too much junk food and drinks too much (despite, like almost all rom-com heroines, extremely thin and traditionally hot), her helicopter parents coddle her , and yet she is hungry for attention. Unfortunately for her, however, Danni Sanders doesn’t get the Bridget Jones redemption bow. Instead of, Not alright better mirrors Dear Evan Hansen, in that it is about a very unlikely person who does something so morally despicable that you become increasingly convinced that she cannot possibly redeem herself. Spoiler: She doesn’t!

Not alright isn’t the first movie to denounce the age of influencers, but it’s easily the most disturbing. The setup is as follows: Danni, played with terrifying credibility 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 rightly view her behavior as obnoxious and weird. (One day, in an elevator, she asks two characters what they do 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 high school best friend or something. You 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 posts an article titled “Why am I so sad?” her editor dismisses it because it’s completely tone-deaf (“Can’t tone-deaf be a brand? Like Lena Dunham?” she protests). Meanwhile, her professional nemesis, respected reporter Harpermentions that she is applying for a writing retreat in Paris, so of course Danni is pretending to also going on a Parisian writer’s retreat by creating a fake website for a non-existent program. Instead of going real, she Photoshops photos 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). . But just minutes after she posts an Instagram at the Arc de Triomphe, a terrorist attack hits and she is bombarded with “are you okay?” messages. In response, she posts a standard IG Story response: “I’m fine and safe. I don’t have reliable service yet, but please know I’m fine. Devastated to those who aren’t.”

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 the subsequent hashtag called “I Am Not Okay” about what it was like to witness to be from the attacks. At a support group for survivors of mass violence, which she attends to rehabilitate members for their trauma, she meets Rowan (Mia Isaac), a survivor of a teenage school shooting who became a gun control activist. And here it really gets dark.

Jealous of Rowan’s success as an activist influencer, Danni rides her fur by first befriending her, then writing a speech together and joining her onstage at a rally. When Danni’s big lie falls apart and it is subsequently cancelled, Rowan’s reputation is also damaged. The final scene of the film is a poetic slam in which Rowan discusses the effect it has had on her, and the unfairness of it all. “Why are people like you getting movies on Netflix and Hulu and people like me being told to sit still and wait for change?” she asks.

Danni and Rowan at a demonstration against gun violence.

The problem with this bit of meta-criticism is that the movie 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 (watching movies about influencers) is easy and allows us to laugh at heartless, desperate idiocy. While the film tries to emphasize the emptiness of professional Instagrammers through Danni’s dangerous obsession with influence and Colin’s general silliness, the message could be more effective if it didn’t include multiple sympathetic cameos from Caroline Calloway, an influencer with delusions of grandeur known for at all costs. requires attention.

It’s a hard line that the film doesn’t always manage to walk, especially considering that Not alright pit a privileged white woman’s own victimization complex against the actual victimization of a young black girl, and there’s a lot more at stake here than just follower count. But in the end, the landing sticks: Even if the last third of the film feels tonal and awkward, 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 would never have a happy ending.

I hope Not alright (from July 29 on Hulu) finds its audience, and that there will be more movies that denounce the creative economy and say something stronger than simply, “This is all pretty stupid, isn’t it?” Perhaps it’s the start of a new rom-com formula: Instead of seeking romantic love to fill the yawning void in our protagonist’s life, she’ll instead try to become famous, and, it is presumed, realize that celebrity isn’t the silver bullet for luck that marrying the first man you give the time of day is too. Now call it: In the fourth Bridget Jones movie, she and Colin Firth start an OnlyFans.

This column was first published in the Goods Newsletter. Register here so you don’t miss the next one, plus exclusive newsletters.

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