Social media is not exactly a new subject for Hollywood, but it also isn’t a subject that’s treated with insight often. The Social Network is arguably the best work on the subject, but it’s more of a story of how a social media giant came to be than how social media affects our daily lives, while films like Catfish and Hard Candy focus more on very specific dangers inherent to social media. Ingrid Goes West is the story of a woman who seeks meaningful human contact through Instagram, and it’s one of the first films that meaningfully shows us a mirror of just how pathetic our cultural quest for likes and tags has allowed us to become.
The cast and crew of Ingrid Goes West are not neophytes by a long shot, but neither are they big screen regulars. Aubrey Plaza plays the titular Ingrid, and most of us know her for her television work than her work in film. This the directorial debut of Matt Spicer who also wrote Ingrid Goes West, and he only has one other major motion picture credit to his name on the writing end of things. The Director of Cinematography Bryce Fortner does have a long list of credits, but again these are mostly for shorts and television. The only true big screen veteran in the cast is Elizabeth Olsen, who plays Taylor, the latest object Ingrid’s obsession, and even she has a relatively young career. All this adds up to a film that has a very distinct style, even if that style isn’t terribly refined and often comes across as a really good episode of a television series.
Ingrid Goes West opens with a quick montage showing Ingrid stalking a woman named Charlotte on Instagram on the day of Charlotte’s wedding. We learn that Charlotte doesn’t even know Ingrid, that Ingrid has latched onto Charlotte since Charlotte once liked a comment from Ingrid on her Instagram page, and so when Ingrid marches into Charlotte’s wedding uninvited it’s a surprise. When Ingrid sprays mace into Charlotte’s face as reprisal for not inviting her to the wedding, Ingrid lands in a mental institution. Shortly after leaving the institution, Ingrid finds a new target to stalk – Taylor, an Instagram photographer and model of some notoriety, and when Ingrid’s mother dies leaving her a relatively large sum of money, Ingrid decides it’s time to go to Los Angeles and make Taylor her new best friend.
Ingrid Goes West is a difficult film to talk about in any real detail, as to do so may spoil elements of the film best left to the audience to discover, but I’ll take a small chance on a bit of a spoiler by letting you know that while the acting and visuals on display are well done (if, like I said earlier, a tad “television-y”) the reason to see Ingrid Goes West is it’s incredibly insightful look into just how much social media has infested every element of our culture and the impact it has had on our ability to treat others and even ourselves as real people rather than dispensers of instant gratification. It’s easy to look at Ingrid in the film and write her off as pathetic and crazy, if also entertaining, but when we start to see that the characters we empathized with and saw ourselves in are just as fake and needy as Ingrid, just better at hiding it because they aren’t our point of view character, the movie starts getting real, for some it may be a bit too real. The insight goes even deeper than this, and when the plot lines wrap up and our various characters are left to their fates at film’s end, you can see what a truly poignant and damning film Ingrid Goes West really is.
Your enjoyment of Ingrid Goes West will depend not only on how open you are to the film’s themes, but also on how much you enjoy Aubrey Plaza’s style of comedy. While Ingrid Goes West does have a strong cast of characters, Plaza’s Ingrid is the obvious ever present focus of the film, I don’t remember a single moment of film without her, and if you are not a fan of her deadpan, snarky, self deprecating while also disdainful delivery, then the other performers are probably not going to be enough to make up for the film taking on her demeanor as its own. Elizabeth Olsen does give a great performance, as good as her showing in Wind River, O’Shea Jackson Jr. is charming as Dan, Ingrid’s long suffering landlord, and the remaining supporting cast are all darkly, quirkily humorous, but this movie is Plaza’s through and through.
Final verdict: Ingrid Goes West is a film that uses its razor sharp insight into our instant gratification social media society as both its main source of humor and commentary. The humor is deadpan, often mean, and always smart, but it most certainly will not be everyone’s cup of tea. Last week I praised Taylor Sheridan’s script as the best of the year so far. Ingrid Goes West, while radically different in style and tone, matches, and possibly even surpasses Sheridan’s effort. Ingrid Goes West, while entertaining, is never light entertainment, and often is downright nasty, but it’s nasty with a purpose. Ingrid Goes West exposes truths about ourselves we don’t want to confront, but if it forces some of us to do so, we may find ourselves better off and happier for it in the long run.