Despite not being nearly so much fun IRL (that’s ‘in real life’ to us grizzled elders) the awkward, ugly and oftentimes downright traumatic trials of adolescence have long supplied filmmakers with a seemingly infinite wealth of cinematic inspiration. From The Breakfast Club’s motley assortment of troubled high school misfits to the quiet inner torment of Brian De Palma’s iconic, outcast-extraordinaire Carrie, this is a tradition peppered with no shortage of wittily ingenious and affecting classics. With the 1980s in particular proving to be something of a golden age for such famously angsty titles, the past decade has witnessed an endless slew of modern movies and TV series seeking – with varying levels of success – to recapture the vibrantly creative spark of this bygone era. Combining razor-sharp screenwriting with broodingly atmospheric lashings of the fantastical, it’s little surprise that critically-lauded Netflix hit Stranger Things has proven to be the most explosively popular title of its kind. And with the same hugely talented creative team handling production duties for freshly released supernatural smash I Am Not Okay With This, the success of this new venture seemed all but guaranteed from the get-go.
Indeed, examining Season 1 in its most crudely reductive terms, all the essential ingredients of this commercially viable formula are firmly in place from the outset: the quick-witted ‘losers’ club’ of loveable misfits (check), choice smatterings of misty-eyed nostalgia (hello VHS tapes and prerequisite ’80s soundtrack) and a dourly unassuming small town unexpectedly besieged by supernatural phenomena. But with its scathingly sardonic, keen-as-a-razor wit, ink-black flashes of gallows humour and intensely suspenseful narrative twists, this absorbingly character-driven series is so much more than just the latest in a long-line of ’80s nostalgia fests. Finding an instantly likeable and emotionally compelling lead in the shape of IT: Chapter 1 star Sophia Lillis, our story centres on 17-year-old Sydney Novak, an apparently ordinary teenage girl grappling with the untimely loss of her suicidal father.
Compounded by a problematic relationship with her recently widowed mother, a secret infatuation with her best friend Dina (Sofia Bryant) and a deep-seated hatred of the meat-headed jock she’s currently dating, Syd soon finds herself at the mercy of her increasingly turbulent and unpredictable emotions. With these angry outbursts erupting in the terrifying shape of violent, frequently uncontrollable telekinetic episodes, our troubled protagonist finds an unexpected friend and confidante in the shape of her ‘weird’ but sweetly endearing stoner neighbour Stanley Barber (Wyatt Oleff). But, as Syd’s powers continue to grow and manifest with every traumatic flashback, angry conflict and humiliating brushoff she’s daily forced to endure, it seems that she and her friends are edging inexorably closer towards a catastrophe of truly epic proportions.
Averaging a mere 20 minutes per episode, I Am Not Okay With This skilfully exploits every moment of its decidedly economic runtime to highly dramatic effect, with random nosebleeds, collapsing library shelves and airborne bowling balls flying every which way as Syd struggles to keep a lid on her newfound superpowers. By the final episode, events have taken a truly unprecedented turn for the darker, with the show's endlessly suspenseful narrative having veered decidedly into the horror genre with a truly mind-blowing climax that’s not likely to be forgotten anytime soon. But, buried deep at the heart of all the comic book-style hijinks and drama is the altogether darker reality of post-traumatic pain and grief that, through the series' compelling theatrical leads and penetratingly insightful writing, makes this something of an instant, coming-of-age classic. Exactly how Season 2 will play out following the catastrophic fallout on which Season 1 concluded is anyone’s guess, but rest assured, we’ll be eagerly awaiting its next nerve-shreddingly dramatic instalment.
I Am Not Okay With This is out now on Netflix