Review: Zoey Deutch in big-swing social satire ‘Not Okay’

‘Not okay’

Quinn Shephard made an impressive debut as a writer and director in 2017 with Blame, a sharp and stylish teen film spin on The Crucible — in her early 20s, no less. Shephard takes things even further with Not Okay, a big-hearted social satire that toasts hashtag activism and influencer culture while suggesting that people can make a difference if they get it right.

Zoey Deutch plays Danni Sanders, an aspiring journalist who is fed up with being overlooked by the much cooler colleagues and editors at the New York site she works for. In a desperate attempt to impress, she pretends to be on a writers’ retreat in Paris – and fakes photos of the trip. Then, when the town is ravaged by a series of terrorist attacks, everyone assumes Danni is a survivor, and the surge in attention (not to mention the huge surge in Instagram followers) convinces her to roll with the lie.

Shephard has a lot of fun faking the wild ride of being extremely popular online, where relevancy is measured in clicks and FOMO can feel as painful as real-world trauma. Shephard balances the comedy with a subplot about Rowan (Mia Isaac), a school shooting survivor and gun rights crusader whose friendship with Danni bolsters the con man’s credibility. These shifts in the film between seriousness and laugh-making comedy feel awkward at times and allow the audience to excuse the characters’ misbehavior as silly rather than reckless.

But “Not Okay” hits surprisingly hard with its ending, reshaping much of the previous 90 minutes from a different and harder perspective. And throughout, Shephard is refreshingly honest about how seductive internet fame can be. Not Okay mostly hits the mark and, at best, provides a step-by-step illustration of how a carefully crafted social media persona can encourage people to step into a real crisis.

‘Not okay.’ R, for continuous speech, drug use, and some sexual content. 1 hour 40 minutes. Available on Hulu.

“We met in virtual reality”

With all the legitimate concerns about whether we’re spending too much time online, it would be wrong to deny that many people rely on the virtual world for a sense of community, a creative outlet, and a way to safely explore other cultures and alternative ones identities. Joe Hunting’s animated documentary We Met in Virtual Reality, shot entirely in VRChat, examines the real-world relationships that have evolved in these virtual spaces and offers an optimistic look at the future of human interaction in an artificial world.

Nothing from We Met in Virtual Reality is set to IRL. There are no dry talking-head interviews with impartial VR experts, no direct comparisons between the everyday life of the film’s protagonists and what they are when they put on their headsets. Instead, Hunting just roams open-minded and curious through colorful fantastical realms, meeting some of the sexy human-animal hybrids and whimsical goofy creatures that have found little corners of VRChat where they can meet up, take trips with friends, take classes…really , doing what humans do in the outside world, but with far fewer physical or logistical constraints.

The character designs and settings are incredibly imaginative; and while the motion and rendering are often flawed, that only adds to the charm of the residents’ casual conversations. In a way, it is reassuring to know that even an online utopia is imperfect and can only succeed in the end thanks to the good will and good ideas of the people who gather there.

“We met in virtual reality.” V-MA. 1 hour, 31 minutes. Available on HBO Max.

A smiling woman holding a wine bottle and her shoes on the seashore.

Sally Phillips in the movie How to Please a Woman.

(David Dare Parker / Brainstorming Media)

“How to make a woman happy”

Like recent indie drama Good Luck to You, Leo Grande – but crossed with The Full Monty and a bit of Magic Mike – Australian comedy How to Please a Woman is about older women looking for sex seek fulfillment and the handsome young men who are paid for it. Sally Phillips gives a winning performance as Gina, a 50-year-old who loses her job and then takes advantage of an awkward encounter with a friendly stripper named Tom (Alexander England) to start her own business: hiring handsome guys to Cleaning homes and providing sexual services upon request.

Writer-director Renée Webster keeps the tone light and sometimes even joking, which initially falls short of some of the issues discussed here, such as the demands of sex work and the fine line between commerce and exploitation. But Webster quickly gets to the heart of the film when Gina realizes her employees may not know enough about romance, fantasy, or sensuality to satisfy their clients. As she begins conducting customer surveys, the input on what women really want makes her think about her own unfulfilling marriage and whether her affable middle-aged business partner Steve (Erik Thomson) can help her find what she’s missing.

“How to Please a Woman” is overly long; and it runs out of action long before it reaches its climax (sort of). But while its premise is dubious at times, the film as a whole has a refreshing horniness. To her credit, Webster doesn’t shy away from the sex part of this sex comedy. It’s central to the picture because Webster’s wives want it — even need it — to be a central part of who they are.

‘How to please a woman.’ Not rated. 1 hour, 47 minutes. Available on VOD.

‘The Reef: Stalked’

Aussie survival thriller The Reef: Stalked is less a sequel to writer-director Andrew Traucki’s acclaimed 2010 film The Reef than it is a re-imagining of the same story. Once again, a group of friends find themselves stranded in the ocean with a deadly shark nearby; and once again, Traucki builds the plot up like a little puzzle as the characters muster whatever resources they can find to safely return to civilization.

The shark’s prey this time are all women: a group of experienced snorkelers that also includes two sisters still recovering from the recent murder of a sibling. Their personal trauma influences some of the decisions they make – and, frankly, leads to some deep conversations that slow The Reef: Stalked. Overall, the action here isn’t as tight as The Reef, and the shark effects aren’t as impressive. Nevertheless, the film largely delivers what it promises. We watch these ladies attempt to become victims, thinking their way through seemingly impossible problems, knowing that any mistake could be their last.

‘The Reef: Stalked.’ Not rated. 1 hour, 29 minutes. Available from Shudder.

‘Black Wood’

In writer-director Chris Canfield’s debut film, BlackWood, a gang of thugs in late 19th-century South Dakota forces a Native American woman (Tanajsia Slaughter) to lead them on a gold hunt in a mysterious forest, which turns out to be true the home of the legendary beastman Wendigo. This horror western hybrid plays out the shabbier sides of both genres, drawing on stock versions of Old West characters and one of those monster movie plots where people keep tripping over horribly mutilated bodies but stubbornly resist the idea that there’s anything weird going on.

Canfield also introduces themes related to the American frontiers’ cruel treatment of natives – a serious note that is admirable but at odds with the film’s overall tone. This is more of a movie for anyone who wants to see burly jerks in cowboy hats getting pushed around in the beautiful wilderness of the Black Hills by a giant, hairy humanoid – and who doesn’t mind waiting through a bunch of slow takes to get there to some pretty nifty car chases and gore.

‘Black wood.’ R, for violence, gore and language. 1 hour, 38 minutes. Available on VOD.

Also on VOD

“Neptune Frost” is unlike any other film released this year: a gender-biased sci-fi musical set amidst a gang of revolutionary hackers living in a Rwandan village surrounded by e-waste. Co-directors Saul Williams and Anisia Uzeyman fuse Afrofuturism and modern popular culture into a unique vision. Available on VOD.

Now available on DVD and Blu-ray

A woman and two men look worriedly at the camera.

Xochitl Gómez, from left, Benedict Wong and Benedict Cumberbatch in the film Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.

(Marvel Studios)

“Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” continues the recent trend in Marvel movies and TV shows to explore alternate realities as everyone’s favorite wizard (Benedict Cumberbatch) hops between universes trying to solve problems thrown up by his old Avengers colleague, the Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), were caused. The film also marks a return to Marvel for director Sam Raimi, who helmed the first three Spider-Man films in the 2000s. Walt Disney. Review: Zoey Deutch in big-swing social satire ‘Not Okay’

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