Review: ‘I Am Not Okay With This:’ Teen Angst And Superpowers Are A Lethal Combination

Being a teenager sucks.

It’s the part in your life where you are literally going through a transformation in some form.  Whether it’s your voice getting deep, hair growing everywhere, or you starting to find your own sense of individuality/rebellion, your emotional growth (or lack thereof) it’s just a tough time for just about every teenager on the planet.  Now throw in telekinetic powers…. There’s a reason Charles Xavier’s X-Men training facility was in the serene X-Mansion in Westchester County, and not New York City, because hormonal teens with the power of a bomb would have leveled it twice a day.

In I Am Not Okay With This, we meet Sydney (Sophia Lillis): a self-described “boring 17-year-old white girl” who is just trying to process her emotions following her father’s unexpected death and keep her head above water.  She takes care of her younger brother Liam (Aidan Wojtak-Hissong) as her mother Maggie (Kathleen Rose Perkins) spends all her time working at the local diner.  Pretty much no one wants to talk about Dad’s death, so she writes her feelings in her diary.  Sydney’s only real support is her best friend Dina (Sofia Bryant), who Sydney is starting to realize she has romantic feelings for, and Dina is starting to date the local high school football star Brad (Richard Ellis), which sets off something in her.  Before she can realize what’s happened, she has made Brad’s nose bleed with her mind.  Because Dina is pairing off with her new bae, Sydney spends some time with her next-door neighbor Stanley (Wyatt Oleff), the only kid in school who is equally as weird as she is, and slowly but surely she tips him that she may have superpowers, and of course, she’s “not okay with this.”  In addition to being her new boyfriend/beard, he also operates as her trusty “guy in the chair” and helps her navigate her newfound reality.

If thinking about a teenage girl with telekinetic powers reminds you of Eleven from Stranger Things, both shows are produced by Jonathan Entwhistle and Shawn Levy.  However, instead of dealing with high stakes of the Upside Down and the Department of Energy like Eleven, Sydney just has to try and manage high school as an outsider, which probably is just as hard.  You could say Eleven had it easier being institutionalized and raised by the sinister government agency as she at least had some training.  Sydney has to figure things out on her own, which is almost as scary as any Demogorgon.  Sydney knows that her screaming in a rage, getting too drunk or stoned, or just having a crappy day could end up putting everyone’s life in danger at any moment, and I Am Not Okay With This has plenty of moments whether it be protecting her brother from bullies, keeping feelings for Dina in check, or avoiding bullying from the cool kids.

Like Stranger Things, this show seems to love the 80s.  The weird thing though, is that this show is set in contemporary society.  Her friend Stanley still plays VHS tapes, even though he could probably YouTube whatever he needed to see on his cell phone if he wanted to.  The clothing styles everyone is weather seems to be from a generation ago, but hey, maybe that’s just small-town Pennsylvania.  You can’t help but feel the show paying homage to John Hughes and, of course, to Stephen King’s Carrie as each episode foreshadows the eventual climax where she’s covered in blood and running away.

While every episode is directed by Jonathan Entwistle (The End of the F***ing World), there is a significant style for each episode that doesn’t change much throughout the 7 crisp episodes.  Speaking of the episodes, bravo to Netflix for not stretching both the episode count as well as the episode time allotment (each episode clocks in at about a half-hour), which is just enough to keep you fully engaged without adding additional fat.  Each episode takes advantage of the “Dear Diary” format, so that we can have Sydney narrate her internal feelings as the story progresses.  Speaking of Sydney, Sophia Lillis really gets to shine as the show is completely thrown on her back.  She perfectly captures the more realistic take of how a hormonal and angsty teenager would be if all of a sudden had the ability to move things with their mind, and the emotional pressure that would have on a teen.  She does most of her scenes with Wyatt Oleff, and the two have genuine chemistry (as the two also acted together in the It movies together as part of Loser’s Club that faced off against Pennywise).  By the end of the series (especially the way it ends), you REALLY want to see what happens next with her and her friends.

3 out of 5
Travis Hopson has been reviewing movies before he even knew there was such a thing. Having grown up on a combination of bad '80s movies, pro wrestling, comic books, and hip-hop, Travis is uniquely positioned to geek out on just about everything under the sun. A vampire who walks during the day and refuses to sleep, Travis is the co-creator and lead writer for Punch Drunk Critics. He is also a contributor to Good Morning Washington, WBAL Morning News, and WETA Around Town. In the five minutes a day he's not working, Travis is also a voice actor, podcaster, and Twitch gamer. Travis is a voting member of the Critics Choice Association (CCA), Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), and Late Night programmer for the Lakefront Film Festival.

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