Matt Spicer’s darkly comedic Ingrid Goes West is a scary, relevant, anti live-in-skin “thriller” dusted with millennial glitter. Dare I hope audiences might silence their phones for 97 minutes and emerge with a new view of their superficial cyber worlds? Social media is no longer a “fad” or “trend,” but a distraction-based lifestyle. Spicer and co-writer David Branson Smith pit the lives we post against the ones we live, because *everything* can’t be “THE BEST” or #blessed. Followers aren’t always friends, reality is not “filterable” and wired connectivity isn’t healthy “socialization” once addiction sets in. We’ve failed you, internet. Please forgive our prayer hand emoji usage and obnoxious hashtags.
Aubrey Plaza stars as Ingrid Thorburn, an Instagram addict who exhibits fantastical understandings about followers and interactions. Poor Charlotte (Meredith Hagner) merely comments with condolences on one of Ingrid’s posts, then Ingrid maces Charlotte for not being invited to her wedding – at her wedding. Fast-forward through some institutionalized “help” scenes then it’s right back to Instagram, where she stumbles upon her newest crush “_welltaylored_” aka Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen). With a $60K inheritance to her name, Ingrid uproots her life and moves to California with hopes of finding everlasting friendship. Land of cauliflower samosas, home of Taylor Sloane and the scene of Ingrid’s next breakdown. Single White Online Female under Cali’s hazy seduction.
In respecting narrative flow, Spicer establishes Plaza as an aggressor and Olsen as her victim – but are their arcs truly different? Both play dress-up on a daily basis. Olsen the innocent “free bird” who exploits internet fame and basks in adoration. Plaza with neurotic tenancies, crazy-eyes and instability. Together, they slay the internet with tantalizing glimpses into a lie-filled existence. Instagram profiles become their only means of expression or creative outlet, doing whatever it takes to frame the perfect shot (“A little lower,” Olsen says to a gas station attendant now snapping pics while laying on dirty desert gravel).
Mental health becomes an important discussion topic as Ingrid Goes West unfolds. Plaza plays a sneaky #BFF who can’t go two seconds without clenching her phone (sleeps with it, brushes teeth with it, urinates with it). Lonely, dragged into deeper emotional darkness by the death of her only friend (her mother). Endorphin kicks from each “like” and text message fuel a hunger for acceptance without effort (and wholly customizable). For an “influencer” like Taylor who lives her picture-perfect life out for anyone to “follow,” she’s the perfect companion to Ingrid. Favorite books, vacation destinations, alcohols – that’s who _welltaylored_ is. That’s who ingridgoeswest is. Fabricated luxury and falsified excitement, bursting with sunshine like happiness is a competition. Spicer does a tremendous job of hitting on duplicitous actions that blur screen and truth, like Ingrid posting a vegan meal she promptly spits out and trades for a greasy burger. That’s not what people want to see, though. So we feed the masses.
As expected, there are plenty of psycho-loner-friend antics once Ingrid moves west. First she kidnaps Taylor’s dog to manipulate a meetup (already Taylor-dressing and Taylor-styling based on Instagram “research”). Dinner turns to drinks, and Taylor’s boyfriend – Ezra (Wyatt Russell) – shows off his “artwork” (he purchases antique paintings and slaps on phrases like “Squad Goals” atop). They’re hipster hot garbage, but what does Ingrid do? Spend $1k to buy one, impressing Taylor with money and taste. Bottles of Rosé are slugged, selfies are taken and smiles are beamed – then Taylor’s brother Nicky (Billy Magnussen) barrels into focus. A detestable reality-star type who turns Ingrid Goes West into a kinda-goofy but sickening identity theft case.
In short, Nicky makes a power play after hacking Ingrid’s phone. Just a brother looking out for ‘sis, which makes sense given Ingrid’s incriminating creeper pictures (sleeping Taylor, bathroom products, etc). After a deflating confrontation, Ingrid agrees to pay $5K a month to keep his mouth shut. More hijinx ensue and another innocent bystander is wronged, but jarring shifts in tone focus on less important shenanigans. Not just because Nicky is some Rob Kardashian, stumble-upwards-frat-asshole wannabe who you will hate – and you will – but because Ingrid’s disease loses relevancy. Zaniness overtakes and Spicer steps back from social satire to stage do-it-yourself lawlessness with a much slighter impact. Nicky isn’t someone you love to hate – he’s a toxic personification of internet stardom and detestable selfishness energized purely by cocaine. Yet another social media type, but his presence is a distraction.
Luckily, O’Shea Jackson Jr. as Ingrid’s landlord and aspiring screenwriter Dan Pinto saves Ingrid Goes West on so many occasions. Not like an action hero, but by way of chemistry. He’s obsessed with Batman, immediately attracted to Ingrid and somehow makes vaping watchable. Jackson is California-stoner-cool, and his ability to immediately pierce Ingrid’s Barbie-doll plasticity proves that in-person reactions hold the answers we seek. He’s taken advantage of for being a white knight, and we love him. He has a girl whisper “Gotham needs you” in bed and we love him even more. Dan doesn’t care about fancy fads and can wittily insult you by using only Jerry Bruckheimer movie references. Plaza is always at her best when with Jackson, who shines under the neon glow of illuminated screens.
In the end, Ingrid Goes West is a story of responsibility. An important one. Aubrey Plaza’s quirks may make you laugh, but her situation is both a warning to those who overshare and the ones who obsess. People *die* trying to stage the perfect Instagram post. Or there’s Catfish, a movie-turned-show devoted to exposing fraudulent profile identities. Well, here’s a girl – Ingrid – who’d burn through $60K just to befriend an Instagram “influencer” who replied to one weightless comment (about *avocado toast*). Sound far-fetched given the previous examples? Facades and cyber gateways make it so easy to believe that paradise is only a click away, but that’s not living. Chuckle along with Ingrid Goes West, just don’t ignore the glowing epidemic that we all face. It’s what makes Matt Spicer’s film a borderline horror movie, at times.
Ingrid Goes West is the kind of social media satire we need, even if a tone-shifting second act drives focus from mental health to less interesting criminal goofiness.