Ingrid Goes West is a bleak comedy that exposes us for who we are and who we dream of being.
Social media – the hydra with many heads. To escape it completely is near impossible, and if we’re honest with ourselves, do we really want to? This is the central crux of Matt Spicer’s dark comic delight Ingrid Goes West. A stalker film that’s never threatening, Ingrid Goes West indulges our worst impulses in the grand quest to gain more likes, followers and attention.
Ingrid Thorburn (Aubrey Plaza) has just been released from a mental hospital after attacking a “friend” she made on Instagram. Ingrid soon latches onto a new Instagram darling, Taylor (Elizabeth Olsen), a California girl with the perfect life. Desperate for a new start, and a new buddy, Ingrid packs up and moves to L.A. with the goal of making Taylor her new bestie and enhancing her social media reputation.
Ingrid Goes West is a tale of how much technology rules our lives. The sweet thrill that comes when someone semi-famous decides to follow you. The rush of having an Instagram photo get more than 10 likes. These moments aren’t supposed to hold the significance of a job promotion, but for Ingrid, and the world of today, they do. Ingrid is a classic character who just cares too much, or at least that seems to be her rationalization. She’s recently lost her mother and “best friend,” and immediately latches onto anyone who can show her a way out of her podunk life. Sure, disappointment leads to a woman being blinded in the face on her wedding day, but Ingrid’s character is more petty, less terrifying.
Keeping Ingrid grounded and violence free is necessary to keep audiences on her side. In the end she’s little more than a pathetic and lonely woman probably suffering from a heap of depression. And, at the end of the day, like her hashtag implies, we’re all her. Aubrey Plaza’s portrayal ranges from manipulative, sarcastic and awkward, but always funny with an edge towards endearing. Ingrid wants Taylor to like her, and it’s hard for the audience to not find her likable because of her hijinks. Upon moving to L.A., Ingrid hits all the spots Taylor eats lunch, discovering she doesn’t have the stomach for the hipster food the California beauty indulges in. Upon gaining entry to Taylor’s house, Ingrid takes photos of all of Taylor’s products. Who hasn’t “borrowed” tips and tricks to look cool from social media influencers and/or glommed onto a hot trend – like avocado toast? This is the market Spicer and co-screenwriter David Branson Smith are dealing with.
Plaza is all manner of creepy quirk. She lingers in the corners, totally obvious in her nonchalance. With Plaza’s wide eyes darting around, it’d be easy to find Ingrid to be a social media drug addict, using Taylor as her next quick fix. Instead of saying hi to Taylor, trading on being one of her “Insta-fans,” Ingrid decides to kidnap Taylor’s dog. Even once she’s gained entry into the hallowed circle of Taylor’s world, Plaza never makes Ingrid completely comfortable. She still feels the need to scheme and manipulate, desperately afraid people won’t like her. The film’s final third is dark in its reality – there are people that do what Ingrid does – but it presents a serious showcase of Plaza’s talents outside of being acerbic. It’s poignant, upsetting and heart-wrenching.
Elizabeth Olsen is Plaza’s perfect foil. Where Ingrid is grim and murky, Taylor is sweetness and light. Olsen’s breezy beauty is perfectly suited to the character, and she sells Taylor as a vapid young woman whose house of cards is cemented with the “likes” of her Instagram followers. Taylor talks a big game, whether it’s about opening up a boutique hotel or just being a good friend to someone, either way it’s evident she thrives on attention. When Olsen and Plaza are finally paired up, the film embraces its awkward hilarity, with the two’s oil and water chemistry producing genuine laughs, from Plaza’s Ingrid nearly killing them while rocking out to Kaci & Jo-Jo to Taylor’s misguided attempts to help Ingrid find the perfect selfie pose. We’re all Ingrid, no matter how much we wish we were Taylor, and what’s shocking is that Spicer and crew don’t leave us with easy answers. There’s no pat ending where wrongs are righted and catharsis is achieved. Like reality, sometimes the sour is what we really want, providing its own sweetness no matter how bad we know it is.
The rest of the cast surrounding Plaza and Olsen are just as fully realized and fun. After a remarkable performance playing his own father in Straight Outta Compton, O’Shea Jackson, Jr., shows his range and a flair for the comedic as Ingrid’s Batman-obsessed love interest/landlord Dan. Jackson presents Dan as a nice guy who, no matter how tough he acts, is the best friend Ingrid should truly want. As Taylor’s artistic husband Ezra, Wyatt Russell’s structured performance acts as a stabilizing influence opposite the idealistic, and somewhat delusional, role Olsen plays. The only character out of left field, and this is a film where left field is all we have, is Billy Magnussen’s Nicky, Taylor’s racist, screw-up brother. Where Ingrid is petty and sad, Nicky is flat-out mean, and the movie seems to enjoy taking that to Hannibal Lecter-esque heights, particularly during an extended take where the camera watches him dance.
Ingrid Goes West is a bleak comedy that exposes us for who we are and who we dream of being. A Single White Female for the Instagram generation, Aubrey Plaza and Elizabeth Olsen are perfect, and O’Shea Jackson, Jr. shows all the promise of his debut wasn’t in vain.