Teenage years may not be the kindest of phases to get past. You’re neither a kid nor an adult completely to handle life with poise. Worldly realities may knock you hard. It’s like living in a bubble riddled with confusion and self-doubt when everything about your sexuality, physical appearance, peers and love life become a cause for concern. Netflix’s latest offering I Am Not Okay With This delves into this tricky terrain with a surprising element of honesty through the eyes of a 15-year-old girl Sydney and her endless worries about leading a non-happening life.
The show director Jonathan Entwistle in this book adaptation is successful in establishing the awkwardness of teenage life get and how it’s very possible to make a mountain out of a molehill. Sydney isn’t one of those protagonists who’s exactly likeable. She doesn’t hold her mom in high regard, especially after the mysterious death of her father. She’s not the friendliest of sisters to a school-going brother Liam. Her classmate Stanley Barber and she are even in a relationship briefly, where the former is accommodative enough to understand her concerns – and yet she gives a cold shoulder to him. She finds her soulmate in the form of a best friend Dina.
Understandably, a story about teen angst is expected to represent the concerns of its protagonist, but that doesn’t mean bombarding a series of her never-ending voiceovers (in the excuse of being the voice of her mind) upon the viewer across two and a half hours. It becomes hard to keep track of her ranting spree – there are phases where the show begins to feel like a radio play too.
The revelation about the telekinetic powers of the protagonist is a welcome distraction. It’s also an interesting device that the author would have probably used to highlight the intensity of the character’s trauma in the book. It’s hard to imagine if a viewer would have invested his/her time in the story without this subplot. Her inner outbursts destroy trees in the middle of a forest, the items in a grocery store fall from a series of racks like a pack of cards and blood oozes out of a man’s neck indicating her anger. Many such mysterious events/mishaps keep a viewer curious.
Beyond the pessimism of the protagonist and the tepidness of the narrative though, I Am Okay With This remains appreciably realistic. It wouldn’t have been very difficult for its writers to shape the characters around the protagonists as a bunch of ‘teen-drama stereotypes’, but they instead take the tougher route with the storytelling. The realisation with her sexuality isn’t sensationalised too. Though this isn’t effective cinematically, this provides relatability to the lead character. Sophia Lillis as Sydney is better when she communicates through her silences.
Beyond Sydney, Stan is the only character you develop an instant liking towards. He’s Zen-like, handling the mood-swings of his romantic interest with a maturity rare for his age. He’s always the man that Sydney reaches out for help and despite all the tantrums she throws, he remains so-giving and never loses his cool. When the love story of Sydney and Stan takes a backseat owing to the former’s (self) acknowledgement about her sexuality, you feel sorry for Stan. (I wish their romance lasted longer) The 16-year-old actor Wyatt Oleff plays this part with innocence and niceness that helps you believe in the purity of the character.
The show has a gory ending in the form of a cliff-hanger. It would be interesting to see if the makers stick to the story-flow in the book in the further seasons (especially in the climactic stretch). I Am Not Okay With This is profound, entertaining and exhausting at the same time. Brave those initial hiccups and you might have a series of surprises in store.