The plot of Ingrid Goes West feels like a setup that would never actually happen. Until it does. It plays out in a way that had me nervous for any new friend coming through to hang out. I’m not sure how I’d respond if the events of Ingrid Goes West happened to me, but I suspect in a similar manner to which the characters do. It's a mix of anger, disgust and pity directed towards the title character played by Aubrey Plaza.
It’s all fairly simple, with Plaza is left feeling devastated and aimless after the death of her mother she begins stalking Elizabeth Olsen’s Taylor Sloane, whose Instagram profile projects the life Plaza has always wanted.
While the story is straightforward, it sets up a lot of interesting questions about the relationship we hold with social media. And it’s a testament to the writing of David Branson Smith and director Matt Spicer that Ingrid Goes West doesn’t fall into absurdity which it easily might have. On paper it’s a film discussing some very blatant themes that could have felt heavy handed if everyone involved wasn’t tack sharp. But the film enticed me in such a way that about halfway through the 90 minute runtime I’d forgotten about the initial creepy as fuck setup.
Until the inevitable happened and everything came crashing down, I was enjoying the way that Spicer eviscerates our social media habits. Scenes like Olsen asking a mechanic to crawl on the ground so he can get the right angle for her next post while her and Ingrid pose against a setting sun, showcase the absurdity of our habits. It’s seems exaggerated sure but it also has a weird ring of truth to it.
Smith and crew deserve credit for being able to draw me away from the initial set-up of the film through the use of well placed comedy stemming from character antics and more importantly, the presence of O’Shea Jackson Jr. While this is the best performance I’ve ever seen from Plaza, moving from unhinged to charismatic with ease, it’s jackson who had me grinning from ear to ear. As a landlord obsessed with Batman Jackson turns in such a different performance from that of N.W.A, it took me a few minutes to understand that it was really him on screen.
The cast is rounded out by the bearded Wyatt Russell (Kurt Russell’s son) and Billy Magnussen as Olsen’s douchey younger brother. Both have limited screen time but make the most of the dialogue they're given.
A crucial element of Ingrid Goes West was how intensely awkward it made me feel. I felt myself cringing at times, not because of anything negative happening on screen but due to the shades of myself I could see in the use of Instagram as a platform. Perspective is lost when engaging on social media on an hourly basis. Twitter, Facebook and Instagram fit into our lives seamlessly and things we do to engage properly—photo selection, editing a certain way, use of captions and hashtags—all become normalized.
Then I saw these tendencies held out at arms length and analyzed through satire. It all seemed so stupid. It seemed so insipid and boring that it scared me. Ingrid Goes West helped me evaluate why I was using social media the way I was. and ask wether or not was there anything I could do to alter the way I interacted with these platforms? I didn’t find any answers to these questions because I don’t think there are any easy to understand. But by far the most unsettling part of Ingrid Goes West is that there’s nothing gained from prior events. There's no lesson learned so to speak. Instead social media is just reinforced as a addictive, dominating factor in our lives. While it comes off as realistic because there's not always an easy takeaway, the ending did make me squirm.
There isn’t a lot to complain about here except for a few pacing issues with a few bloated scenes that could have been cut. Ingrid Goes West isn’t a revolutionary movie by any standard but it does feel important. While movies like The Social Network explore the birth of a social media giant and the issues that came with it, I never felt like it touched upon the impact Facebook had on people’s lives. Not because it did a bad job at explaining that impact, it just wasn’t that movie. Ingrid Goes West assumes you already know what Instagram is and are familiar with some of it’s trappings and tendencies. It takes what we know and understand to be true about the platform and then flips those notions on its head.
At times Ingrid Goes West is hard to watch due to the excruciating accuracy with which it rips apart the social media celebrity, specifically Instagram stars who have curated a life that doesn't exist. I highly recommend watching it if only for the fantastic performances from Aubrey Plaza and O’Shea Jackson Jr.
Ingrid Goes West: A dark comedy about the perils of social media and how easily it is to get caught up in the highlight reel that is our Instagram lives. Certainly worth checking out in theatres.