This article includes spoilers for “Disagree”.
Admit it: Part of the twisted fun we had watching “American Idol” came from hearing about all the setbacks that ultimately caused contestants like Fantasia Barrino to wrap “Summertime” perfectly. Likewise, we find the sprawling list of ailments, surgeries and personal defeats that Olympians like Allyson Felix have endured just as captivating to listen to as the dramatic sportscasters recount them before their medals.
We live for the drama of everything people have to overcome to get to the point where we watch them on TV or follow them on social media. We click, we like, we prefer – we buy as a whole thing. Because we’re a culture that loves a good gory story.
Or maybe we’re enjoying a good comeback.
Either way, it makes sense that recent screen narratives tap into what that fascination says about us and, more interestingly, what happens when the public figure taps into that interest. Sometimes the writers explore this quite thoughtfully and actually challenge their protagonists, as in the case of Showtime’s “I Love That for You.” But other times, we get something like writer-director Quinn Shephard’s new Hulu movie, “Not Okay,” which hits theaters on July 29.
To be fair, the simple synopsis of “Not Okay” makes it one of those hate watches that people often love to hate that end up getting sequels or second seasons.
A white, able-bodied, straight, cisgender young woman (Zoey Deutch) feels so unspecial in the diverse online magazine where she works that she invents a traumatic story about being a survivor so she can feel appreciated and loved – in the same way as, in his view, some of his black, trans and/or disabled colleagues.
Disaster ultimately ensues from there, obviously. But first, Shephard has audiences cringing for about an hour after Danni Sanders (Deutch), a journalist, mind you, fabricates a personal essay about narrowly escaping a bombing in Paris. In fact, she’s never even been to the City of Lights.
Where does she get such vivid details about the real feel of trauma like that? Not from his own experience, of course. Danni is the kind of person who has an absurdly big apartment in town on the meager salary of a journalist, whose parents are always there to lend a hand. He’s not someone who’s used to even a little inconvenience.
So Danni goes to a support group where she – wait for it – focuses on and befriends a black girl named Rowan (Mia Isaac), who was the victim of a school shooting. She listens to his story and co-opts his pain, then feeds it into an article filled with fabricated experiences.
It’s about here that you start to wonder if Shephard’s storyline will do any racial acknowledgment, and why Danni chooses Rowan, someone who’s already marginalized because he’s black, over all the other members. of the support group. It’s insidious.
But the narrative blindly gallops to where Danni gains a meteoric number of social media followers, unequivocal support from her colleagues, and unlimited self-care days at work as soon as she publishes the article.
Meanwhile, Rowan, a real and respected activist struggling with real trauma, takes a back seat to Danni Sanders’ budding phenomenon, The Survivor. Admittedly, it’s more than a little wild that we live in a world where traumatic experiences are even prioritized and consumed in that way.
It’s crazier, however, than what Danni understands from this is that black girls and women are perfect sources of trauma – but, as a white woman, she can actually get a lot more support. to share similar experiences.
As adept as “Disagree” is at realizing the virtually vampiric nature of how trauma is absorbed in today’s culture, it completely avoids engaging with the role that race plays. Completely ignoring this, Danni feels guilty for lying, but not so much about how her whiteness encouraged her to do what she did the way she did it.
“Not Okay” just isn’t smart enough to consider or even reflect the larger ramifications of its storyline or even its superficial and one-dimensional protagonist. As a result, the film ends with a thump – the terrible truth comes out and has consequences, but ultimately nothing and no one is disputed.
It’s a rather grim, albeit realistic, look at the downfall of problematic favorites that mostly go unchecked. Meanwhile, “I Love That for You” actually delves into its protagonist’s similar moral crises in a much more satisfying way.
Vanessa Bayer plays Joanna Gold, a woman who survived leukemia as a child and who has long wanted to work in a home shopping network. If all she needed for a position was a heart of gold, she would have been hired on the spot. But Joanna is clumsy both on camera and in person and has little professional experience.
What she does have, however, is a good factual history of having had cancer. But she wouldn’t use that to get a job and gain a massive following – would she? You bet. In fact, she goes one step further and reluctantly alters the narrative to say that she still has cancer. Even better.
It’s not that Joanna does it in good conscience. She is overwhelmed with guilt instantly. This is especially true when she sees how many other opportunities are available to her at work as well as the adoration she commands from co-workers who previously rolled their eyes behind her. her back when she was interviewing for the role.
There’s an internal dilemma that Joanna experiences that Danni simply never has – or at least not for the same reason. Joanna tries to deal with the benefits she receives in addition to getting the job, while Danni’s goal for exploiting the trauma is for the benefits and attention. It’s grotesque, even if it reflects a bunch of social media personalities that exist in the real world.
However, “Disagree” really has nothing to do with say about them or about this phenomenon. The problem isn’t that Danni is a likable character (for what it’s worth, even though Joanna is nice, she’s not a particularly likable character herself). But she should, at least eventually, address the scope of her actions in a real way.
Once Danni is discovered, she loses notoriety and gains – what? – a chance to maybe rebuild his short career. Meanwhile, Rowans around the world will likely have a whole new experience to unpack in their support groups.
On the other hand, the heart of Joanna’s story is her deep regret for everything she gains from her cancer story. A job, a new office, a centralized segment on the network, the very respect of her bully from a boss Patricia (Jenifer Lewis), who she discovers has real cancer. She also feels real regret about the human impact of her choice, which Danni never considers.
Joanna is in a perpetual state of conflict over what her lie offers her – so much so that she says it on her own, while Danni is forced into it. Joanna takes responsibility for what she has done and, regardless of how she is perceived, accepts the results.
This kind of engagement with the larger themes of the story is what makes for a flawed compelling character. “Not Okay” features a flawed character who capitalizes on something only some of us resist realizing – the worship of millions of outsiders based on a lie – and refuses to engage in the various conflicts that ensue. Thisin fact, it’s not.
The Huffington Gt