Aubrey Plaza is Ingrid Thorburn, a social media obsessed loner who habitually stalks various Instagram personalities. After the death of her mother and a stint in a mental hospital, Ingrid ventures west to Los Angeles to befriend her latest Instagram obsession, Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen). Once she arrives, Ingrid begins mimicking Taylor’s every characteristic: dressing how she dresses, eating how she eats, and frequenting her usual hangouts. Miraculously, Taylor befriends Ingrid, who is completely oblivious to the depths of her obsession.
As you can probably guess by my brief plot synopsis, Ingrid Goes West is very concerned with the hashtag obsessed social media crazed smartphone generation. The film has been billed as a dark-comedy, which is quite an apt descriptor. The gulf between the highs and lows of this film is a rather large one. The film quickly bounces between being deeply hilarious and seriously uncomfortable. Often times both. There’s a looseness to the structure of Ingrid Goes West. The central plot revolves around Ingrid and Taylor’s “friendship”, but once that initial connection is made the film begins to wander, jumping from one Instagram-worthy moment to the next.
While this haphazardness may be to the detriment of a lesser film, first-time director and Matt Spicer deftly uses it to his advantage. The film is all over the place but continuously manages to engage with witty critique and quirky cast of characters. OF course, it helps that the script, penned by David Branson Smith (another first-timer) and Spicer, is quite sharp. This lack of focus feels fitting with the film’s overall thesis and focus on these character’s shallow aimlessness. Although, the dramatic tone shifts can be jarring at some points.
Ingrid’s obsessive personality isn’t the only aspect of social media culture that Ingrid Goes West takes shots at. While Ingrid is initially enamored with Taylor’s supposed glamorous lifestyle, she soon learns that it is all a carefully fabricated facade. Taylor uses Instagram to shill whatever products corporations will give her money for. Her general aesthetic is completely manufactured. She’s a phony. Ingrid is straightforward with her creepin’ at the very least. It’s difficult to tell what Taylor actually cares about.
Elizabeth Olsen skillfully walks the line between being sympathetic and contemptuous. Taylor’s totally self-absorbed personality leaves her ignorant to the obviously creepy and obsessive behavior because it makes her feel good about herself. This is played for laughs often and Olsen has a lot of fun with it.
In addition to Plaza and Olsen, the film is stacked with plenty of other talented actors. Wyatt Russell plays Taylor’s husband Ezra. Ezra makes “ironic” art, superimposing photographs with various twitter hashtags. The piece by him featuring a group of galloping horses with #SquadGoals plastered on top of it garnered one of the biggest laughs from me. Billy Magnussen plays Taylor’s brother, Nicky. Nicky is a big partier and an even bigger drug addict who’s a little over-protective of his sister Magnussen brings a palpable sense of unpredictability to every one of his scenes, often ramping up the tension.
Perhaps the breakout star in the film is O’Shea Jackson Jr., who plays Ingrid’s landlord/lover Dan. Dan, like almost every other character in this film, has an obsession. It’s not Instagram fame. It isn’t friends. It’s Batman. Dan is a Batman fanatic, going as far as to write a spec-script for a Batman film. While the character doesn’t necessarily have a full arc, Jackson Jr.’s natural charisma manages to make Dan the most likable person in the entire film. He instantly stole the scene whenever he was onscreen.
The film wouldn’t work without a fantastic lead. Luckily, Aubrey Plaza is so good here. Her performance here is a nuanced one. Plaza spends the majority of the film making the audience feel uncomfortable as hell, while simultaneously carving out laughs like nobody’s business. Her years spent on Parks and Recreation have served her well with her mastery of comedic timing. Plaza goes to some dark places with Ingrid but still manages to make her somewhat sympathetic, despite her excessively creepy behavior. Ingrid Goes West obviously has a bone to pick with the prevalence of social media in our lives. While it may feel a tad preachy at times, there’s a real emotional resonance to the film. At the film’s core is a broken person who yearns for some sort of connection. Deep down, Ingrid just wants to be liked. While she may go about it absolutely horribly, isn’t that what we all want?