There’s nothing easy about being teenagers. This is an age where you feel like everything does not make any sense and everyone seems to conspire against you. You’re gonna experience a lot of things like love, loss, and heartbreak while also dealing with physical and emotional changes. Not to mention the pressure and expectations that your parents and social circle give you that can feel incredibly overwhelming at the same time. Yes, going through puberty is an uphill battle. But it doesn’t mean that you won’t get through it. Every adult, including your parents, has all experienced this phase of life. Though not all of us share the exact challenges, our journey of stepping into the harsh adolescent world will always be universal.
Movies, TV shows, and books have all documented this part of life for decades, depicting the complexity of being teenagers in ways that are entertaining and relevant. Even in the era of streaming service, a simple story about teenagers dealing with their feelings and navigating themselves in the real world is still highly popular. The latest to jump in on the bandwagon is I Am Not Okay with This, Netflix’s newest coming-of-age series co-created by Jonathan Entwistle and Christy Hall, and executive-produced by the producers of Stranger Things and The End of the F***ing World, two other teen shows in the same streaming service.
Validating Teens Emotions
Adapted from a graphic novel of the same name by Charles Forsman, I Am Not Okay with This centers on the story of small-town teen Sydney Novak (Sophia Lillis), a self-described “boring 17-year-old white girl” who’s struggling to deal with all of the changes she is currently experiencing. A number of disgusting pimples start popping out in her thigh as she begins to develop confusing feelings for her best friend Dina (Sofia Bryant), who’s now dating a jock that Syd so despises. At home, things do not seem great either. Her relationship with her mom Maggie (Kathleen Rose Perkins) is getting increasingly volatile every day due to both of their inability to communicate the grief they share over the shocking suicide of her father. The only two people that keep her sane are her little brother Liam (Aidan Wotjak-Hissong) and a charming, weed-dealing neighbor Stanley Barber (Wyatt Oleff), who’s smitten with her.
Yes, the challenges that Syd is grappling with throughout the show aren’t something groundbreaking that we haven’t seen before in any other coming-of-age movies and/or TV shows. But I Am Not Okay with This has something else up its sleeves: a superhero origin story about a teenage girl who discovers that everything that has been gravitating to her life is able to conjure a telekinetic power she herself can’t fathom. With her power, Syd can make the nose of Dina’s boyfriend bleed out of the blue, two bowling balls are thrown without being touched, and even a crack in her bedroom wall. But all of these only happen whenever she struggles to communicate the indescribable feelings that she has, not at any time she wants it to happen.
As shown in Spiderman, Hulu’s Runaways, and several other titles, a coming-of-age story with a superhero twist is hardly new anymore. But unlike those titles, the narrative focus of I Am Not Okay with This remains very grounded to Syd as she discovers herself and her feelings, not what she can do with her power. At least for the seven episodes in the first season, there is no big bad who threatens the existence of the world and humankind. Syd’s journey of making sense of her power isn’t constrained to how she’s able to use it to defeat a group of villains, and more simply about how she discovers that it actually comes from the feelings she’s been bottling up inside of her.
Indeed, Syd’s power is a metaphor for her emotions. And never once does the show shy away from it. But in depicting Syd’s discovery of her power, the show successfully morphs into a story that embraces teen angst, reminding us that even though teenagers are not fully developed both emotionally and psychologically, the feelings and emotions they’re having are true. If anything, it’s during our adolescent days that human beings need to get validation for their feelings and struggles. What happens to Syd in the show can be a dire reminder of what happens when those feelings are discredited.
As mentioned above, when we were teenagers, we were dealing with these overwhelming feelings that make us struggle to get up every morning from our beds. And one of the few things that can be helpful during this phase of life is to communicate those feelings, either with our friends or families or even a therapist. In Syd’s case, she clearly doesn’t have anyone to talk to about her feelings. Her closest friend Dina now chooses to spend more time with her boyfriend rather than with Syd, and given how she left things with her mom, she clearly isn’t an option. So instead, Syd chooses to bottle up her emotions inside. When we’re forced to do what Syd does, we basically become a box of dynamite ready to explode, and it can be very harmful to both other people and to us. Communicating our feelings is a thing that we must do if we don’t want to keep moving forward. This is eventually what I Am Not Okay with This wants us to remember, to always talk our feelings out regardless of how hard it is.
The Case for Sophie Lillis and Wyatt Oleff
Much of the show’s exploration of teen angst is achieved because Sophia Lillis is able to breathe life into Syd so that she won’t be another carbon copy of Molly Ringwald in John Hughes‘ movies. Lillis, who’s only 18 when she stars on the show, gives depth to Syd’s angst, providing vulnerability while remaining bubbly on the outside. Her performance is never showy, it remains grounded with plenty of powerful silent moments pulled off only using a subtle move of her face.
While indeed I Am Not Okay with This is Lillis’ show until the very end, it is Wyatt Oleff, however, that gives the most memorable performance in the show. His presence is charming and engaging, but he manages to avoid a trope of manic pixie boy or being dismissed only as the sidekick character who helps the main character discover her power. Oleff has this kind of magnetism and smooth attitude that is hard to resist, and it reminds me a lot of Timothée Chalamet, who also shares the same screen charisma as Oleff in this show.
That Lillis and Oleff have previously appeared together in It and It Chapter Two certainly helps the chemistry that they share onscreen. Their performances here, however, are like we’ve never seen before in It, flexing both of their dramatic and comedic muscle while offering complexities to the characters. Perhaps, Lillis’ excellent performance here is a testament of why for the past three years, she’s been busy starring in a number of acclaimed movies and series alongside a few A-list actors. But let’s also hope that Oleff will start to get more wonderful projects too because he really deserves it.
I’m Mostly Okay with This
While a desire to be the contemporary Hughesian show is palpable — there’s an episode structured around The Breakfast Club and some shots that pay homage to Sixteen Candles — and the explosive ending feels a little unearned, I Am Not Okay with This is still a great show that feels both familiar and refreshing, twisting the formula of superhero origin story and using it to deal with a relevant exploration of teenagers dealing with their emotions. That said, I’m mostly okay with it.
So, what do you think about the show? Are you okay with the cliffhanger?
I Am Not Okay with This is available to stream on Netflix.
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