Warning: Contains Spoilers
Likely since the advent of the comic book, even before the superhero craze swept film and tv, the question of, “If you could have any superpower what would it be?”, is one we've all been forced to consider. Honestly, what would be the best power to have? Needless to say, it's an open ended question with no wrong answers. (Just to be clear, that's a lie I'm telling to be diplomatic. Anyone with a brain knows the only legitimate answer is Telekinesis. Everything else is a dumb waste of time). It's all a fun thought exercise knowing it's something you'd willingly chose and control.
But what if was an involuntary reflex you had no control over? As involuntary as puberty or high school? And what if that lack of control put everyone around you, friend or foe, in danger? Thinking about the unexpected onset of superpowers that way I'm guessing “I Am Not Okay With This” would be a pretty accurate way of describing how you'd feel.
It's certainly accurate for Sydney Novak, an awkward and introverted high school girl contending with her grief and anger after losing her father to suicide. Taking on the responsibility of looking after her little brother while her beleaguered single mother spends most of her time working as a waitress to make just enough for the family to barely scrape by only adds to the pressures on Sydney. About the only bright spot in her life is the companionship of her only friend, the social butterfly Dina. That is until her far more extroverted, but no less awkward neighbor Stanley introduce himself (trying to pursue his obvious crush).
The teen angst is pretty standard until the simmering rage and bubbling hormones begin to manifest themselves in strange ways. Mostly with objects breaking or flying around the room. The angrier she gets the the more apparent it becomes that some kind of latent telekinetic ability (which we've already identified as the best kind of ability) presents itself. While it's neat at first, the more it happens the more Sydney realizes not only that she can't control it, but that she's endangering the people around her when it happens.
The primary strength of the series lies in the performance of Sophia Lillis (“It” Chapters 1 & 2) as Sydney. It would have been easy to be melodramatic with all the angst and nerdy awkwardness, but instead her performance feels grounded and realistic. The occassional moments of cringe and alienation that are a teenage right of passage for most people so, by not taking over the top, it's easy to feel like we're sharing universal experience with the character. Especially the moments where we would have all wanted to smash some $#@% (and some people) with our newly found superpowers when the old hormones got to hopping.
The strained relationship between Sydney and her mother is also a compelling through line of the show. In addition to the strain that poverty can put on any family's dynamics both characters trying to deal with the suicide of someone they loved in their own, wildly divergent ways-- Sydney wanting to feel closer to her father while her mother avoids the subject like the plague-- becomes a barrier to their emotional connection. While this was strong storyline I did feel like the show took a bit of a cheap way out, making Sydney the selfish jerk teenager without acknowledging the way in which her mother falls short in giving her daughter proper emotional support. Dealing with loss, especially by suicide, is a very real subject to tackle and it deserved a more complete conversation.
I think the show also deserves to be commended in the way it handles the exploration of sexuality of it's teen characters. I hardly consider myself a prude, but personally I've found the salacious, remarkably explicit way so many teen dramas use sex to draw ratings over the last few years rather inappropriate. Just like arguments that violence in entertainment must cause violence in real life is childish any arguments that teenagers in this world need any encouragement to want to have sex is equally silly. That said “I Am Not Okay With This” is just as open to exploring this very real part of growing up without feeling as tawdry or exploitative as some of the show's teen drama contemporaries like “Riverdale” or “The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” (both of which I still like and are also on Netflix). It all feels every grounded and genuine as opposed to a ratings stunt.
Apologies if I've made this half hour dramedy sound like an uber-serious downer, because it's not. The show has a solid sense of humor while weaving a bit of ominous mystery throughout the show. All that while being an effective, allegorical story about what it means to grow up and tackle the question of who you are and who you want to be. I've heard the show described as “What it would look like if John Hughes (16 Candles, Pretty In Pink) made a show about superheroes”. Gotta say, that seems about right. Especially with all the clear homages to Hughes movies you'll spot throughout the series if you have a keen eye. If I were going to make a comparison... “I Am Not Okay With This” is “The Breakfast Club” meets “Carrie”and it's definitely worth the watch.
Final Score: [8 out of 10]
Reviewed by: Tobias Elmore
Follow his facebook page for more reviews: The-Would-Be-Filmmaker
Watch I Am Not Okay With This, only on Netflix: https://www.netflix.com/title/80244852
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