Ingrid Goes West (2017)
SHOULD I SEE IT?
The winner of the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, Ingrid Goes West is a biting, social commentary and dark comedy that has some sharp observational jabs for viewers.
Aubrey Plaza gives her finest performance yet as a woman teetering on the edge of personal relevancy, battling some intense emotional instability, in a world where visibility and status is everything.
Turns the camera around on viewers in a clever way.
The shallow nature of some of the characters and Ingrid's continual self-sabotage might make people frustrated with the story and the movie as a whole.
No one will want to see themselves present in Ingrid. And, look, quite frankly, this movie might hit too close to home for some people.
Some have pushed back on the film, claiming that Ingrid is no one we should be laughing at and being asked to do so, is cruel to the viewer. An interesting take and one worth pondering for sure.
There is something truly rewarding as a movie fan, when a talented actor, good and entertaining in a number of roles, finally breaks out and taps into greatness. In Matt Spicer's feature film debut, Ingrid Goes West, Aubrey Plaza gives her finest performance yet as a woman caught up in the instant gratification world of social media. In a role that could be full of formulaic meltdowns and tired cinematic tropes, she creates a character who is selfish and dangerous, yet generates empathy and twinges the heartstrings a little bit.
Plaza gives us one intriguing character with the 20-something Ingrid Thorburn. We first meet her in the throes of a meltdown, arriving and macing a social media celebrity who never invited her to her wedding. This event leads to her being placed in a mental health facility, where she rehabs right into another object of her attention: Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olson).
Sloane is an Instagram star and Ingrid cannot take her eyes off of her profile, pulling down to refresh constantly to see what she posts next. Ingrid's obsession feels laughable, but also very real. She defines "fame" by superficial images and a social media scorecard of likes and followers. And she wants it. Bad.
An unexpected inheritance offers Ingrid the idea to pick up roots and relocate to Los Angeles, where Sloane lives with husband Ezra (Wyatt Russell), a fledgling artist. With the benefit of knowing what Ingrid has done in the past, we watch in slack-jawed amazement as she plants herself in the city, befriends her naive landlord Dan (O'Shea Jackson Jr.), and infiltrates Taylor and Ezra's world through a series of conniving and calculated maneuvers.
A quasi-friendship develops and Ingrid and Taylor eventually spend a weekend together hanging out in Joshua Tree. However, what Ingrid never realizes is that Taylor does not need Ingrid to be her friend. And if there is a continuum with which avid social media folks live and breathe, both these women exist on it: Taylor, kind-hearted and fun, but bouncing from picture to picture and Instagram like to Instagram like, while Ingrid seeks to consume Taylor's time, become best friends, and receive the endorsement of someone with hundreds of thousands of followers.
Spicer and co-writer David Branson Smith craft a world that is unsettling in how real it feels. For starters, living in an age where a person can be dubbed a YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, or Vine star is a reflection of a culture where we are increasingly digesting entertainment in smaller chunks, and faster than ever before. Though the script focuses on Ingrid and her deranged and troubling behavior, the movie does pose the question of just how much posting and sharing with one another is enough. Is there simply no line we can ever cross?
What Plaza does here is exceptional. She gives us a character impossible to rally behind, and yet one who generates a fascinating vulnerability with her every decision. Though dubbed a comedy, Ingrid Goes West is primarily a satirical drama, infringing on a few suspense/thriller moments, with some outlandish comedy spiked in. Wildly in over her head, Ingrid's instability allows Spicer the opportunity to create an environment where we can feel the coldness surround Ingrid. And yet she presses on.
Ingrid Goes West hums along at a curious, riveting pace, until the occasional subplot, including one involving Taylor's manic, substance-addled brother Nicky (Billy Magnussen), hacking into her cell phone, grinds the movie nearly to a stop. Frequently, the movie gives us a world through Ingrid's eyes, carrying tangible paranoia and unease that allows the dark comedic beats to pulse and thrive. The film struggles when it cedes the narrative voice of Ingrid and gives it to others, losing the story's unique and organic feel.
However, the subtle jabs that Spicer and Smith embed inside the film regarding pop culture and gullibility are very astute. Ezra's art, taking found objects and writing random #hashtag phrases over them is so tacky, silly, but believable in today's world. The cell phone, which evolved into a smartphone, which evolved into a mobile device, is such a part of everything we do, we cannot imagine a world without one in our pockets, on our desk, no more than five-feet away from us at all times.
Ingrid Goes West may not opine for a world where we are less connected, but it does offer us a look at someone who cannot breathe without the need for followers, friends, and likes. Plaza delivers a performance that could be a mockery of Millennial culture, if she didn't play it so lived in and real.
There is a shallowness with all of this that older audiences may dismiss, but younger audiences may embrace. And therein lies Ingrid Goes West's delirious conundrum. What does it mean for us to connect, if those connections only lead to us self-promoting, isolating, and making a big world, seemingly available at our fingertips, smaller than ever and only about ourselves?
CAST & CREW
Starring: Aubrey Plaza, Elizabeth Olson, O'Shea Jackson Jr., Wyatt Russell, Billy Magnussen, Pom Klementieff, Hannah Utt, Joseph Breen, Meredith Hagner.
Director: Matt Spicer
Written by: David Branson Smith, Matt Spicer
Release Date: August 11, 2017