- Product Rating -

Ingrid Goes West

| November 7, 2017

A movie based around social media or the Internet is, a vast majority of times, immediately damned to failure. Features such as last year’s Nerve exemplify of these types, and in theory, Ingrid Goes West would fit into that pantheon, as well as the group of films that feel outdated by the time of their release dates. Ingrid Goes West isn’t at all part of that crowd; it’s instead a thoroughly human movie in the most uncomfortable, darkly funny way. What could have come off as desperate to please and mocking in its treatment of its characters is actually a story about those that are instantly and eternally damned to loneliness given our society, brought to life by snappy pacing and layered performances across the board.

Ingrid Thorburn (Aubrey Plaza) is a 20-something whose mother has recently died and, given her inability to form substantial and healthy relationships with others, resorts to living vicariously through Instagram by way of liking others’ posts. One night, she sees that a woman who has rebuked Ingrid’s previous attempts at friendship is getting married and, given Ingrid’s lack of invitation, she maces the new bride and has a brief stint in a mental hospital.

Afterwards, she learns of social media influencer Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen), whose boho-chic life captures Ingrid’s attention. With a $60,000 inheritance and an inconsequential response from Taylor on an Instagram comment, she decides to head to Los Angeles where she tries to insinuate her way into Taylor’s life—firstly by kidnapping her dog Rothko and returning him while wearing a mask of altruism in the form of a new wardrobe and hairdo. She then meets her new Batman-obsessed landlord Dan (O’Shea Jackson Jr.), as well as Taylor’s obnoxious brother Nicky (Billy Magnussen) and husband Ezra (Wyatt Russell), and her behavior becomes increasingly grandiose and disturbing.

One of the things that makes Ingrid Goes West work so well isn’t just the satire, although that is a crucial part of its triumphs. The relentless skewering of Venice Beach culture and psuedo-intellectualism that’s become synonymous with success is knowingly executed by co-writer David Branson Smith and director/co-writer Matt Spicer, and yet the film manages to find the desperation of each of the characters. The film never apologizes for them, though: Taylor is vapid and shrill; her brother is a racist drug addict; and her husband’s idea of art is utter trash.

But it’s then that Ingrid’s more traditionally frightening behavior shows itself to be simply a stripped-down version of her acquaintances’ flaws—it’s just that Taylor, Nicky, and Ezra are a more affable packaging of the worst aspects of such a culture. It’s the movie’s treatment of Ingrid, though, that demonstrates Spicer’s success as a filmmaker. Our protagonist here clearly suffers from borderline personality disorder, and even if it’s at times played for comedic effect, the episodes of depression that she suffers from play out with a Cronenberg-esque earnestness. Plaza, all the while, gives what may be her best performance yet, being at once funny and broken, both in ways that will make you cringe.

It’s clear that Spicer and Smith aren’t trying to condemn social media or what it brings out in people; this was inevitable to arise in one form or another. It’s the fact that validation is, socially speaking, one of the most important concepts for everyone. Now it’s quantifiable, and all of our worst traits are enabled by the rectangles in our pockets. When human interaction is placed in such a yes/no, double-tap, follow/unfollow simplicity, it can be misleading not just in obvious ways, but in the worst ways, especially for people like Ingrid who are already prone to thinking in black-and-white terms. This is what we’ve become, and for all intents and purposes, we’re screwed. It doesn’t matter whose fault it is—we’re all screwed regardless.

It’s as if social media is a personification of the idealization, the validation, the emotional fickleness, the devaluation, and pervasive irony of any interpersonal interaction. If movies are meant to hold a mirror up to society and satires are meant to place a funhouse mirror in front of ourselves, it makes perfect sense that Ingrid Goes West would instead lay a filter on top of each character and wrap it up with what’s one of the most satisfying endings of the year so far.

About the Author:

Senior year film student at Columbia College Chicago, Hollywood Film Festival pre-screener, and Best Social Media Presence for North Farmington High School's 2014 senior mock elections. Firmly believes that ".gif" is pronounced "jiff".
Filed in: Video and DVD

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