Ingrid Goes West (2017)
She’ll Follow You
In this day and age the word Insta-famous is worryingly real, the term holding a lot more weight than it did only a short number of years ago. Talent agencies have recently opened up about perusing digital platforms (such as Instagram, YouTube and twitter) when scouting for the next big thing (be it model or performer); even Hollywood casting directors have candidly commented on weighing up social media Likes when considering actors for upcoming roles. It’s as if nobody cares about talent anymore.
Well, the talent now seems to lie in curating an unblemished selfie set, or branding oneself by collating a trendy social media account, complete with yummy food-coffee shots, #OFOD snaps and pics of stylish lofts and furnishings, as well as those ‘adorbs’ photos of you and your faintly bearded bae or scantily-clad boo — each image impeccably filtered and meticulously hashtagged — this contemporary practice giving us ‘all-day-every-day’ access into the lives of, well, strangers — people who prioritize popularity over privacy. And it’s this smartphone sub-culture that drives Ingrid Goes West, Matt Spicer’s satirical, sometimes scary feature-film debut, this new black comedy making sharp observations on the phoneaholic camera-ready generation.
Our story ‘follows’ Ingrid Thorburn (Aubrey Plaza), a mentally unbalanced twenty-something Pennsylvanian woman with a long history of confusing hearts on a screen for actual friendships; with most of Ingrid’s interactions being thumb taps on a phone, it’s clear that her social skills aren’t quite up to scratch, Ingrid unable to form meaningful relationships with those in the real world. The film opens with a teary-eyed Ingrid scrolling through the Insta-posts of her supposed ‘friend’ Charlotte (Meredith Hagner), who, for reasons unknown, has denied Ingrid an invite to her ‘now happening’ wedding, the bride uploading pictures of her special day every few minutes. (Let’s face it, we’ve all logged onto social media sites and seen hurtful photo posts of events that we really should have been invited to; so, in this instance, I could sympathize). Things get weird, though, when an enraged Ingrid, armed with a can of aerosol, crashes the nuptial celebration, and as payback, sprays Charlotte dead in the face.
Naturally, this terrible deed lands Ingrid in a psych ward, where the emotionally damaged social media abuser spends a short period of time reflecting on her behavior. It’s here where viewers learn the truth behind the incident, the link (or bond) between the two ladies an utter façade. You see, Ingrid was a cyber-stalker obsessed with a trend-setter she’d followed on Instagram, their ‘friendship’ very much one-sided, spawned by a simple ‘condolences’ comment left by Charlotte on one of Ingrid’s posts, this after she’d lost her mom to cancer, whom Ingrid nursed through the entire life-taking illness. Eager to start anew, Ingrid leaves the hospital with some good news, our reformed leading lady coming into some $60,000, which she’d inherited from her recently deceased mother.
Unable to view the world through anything other than the smokescreen of Instagram, Ingrid quickly falls back into her old habits: her latest target, Insta-sensation Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen), a whimsical Cali-girl photographer/ ‘Influencer’ with a seemingly flawless life — her Instagram, _welltaylored_, a relentless barrage of bright and breezy, sun-drenched snapshots, each one framed to perfection (it’s no wonder she’s the envy of all of her followers). So Ingrid, being unhealthily drawn to beautiful pictures and the equally beautiful people behind them, wants to ‘befriend’ the glam-gal, but for real, and thus uproots her entire life and heads out West to find her.
Once reaching Venice, California, Ingrid (with plenty of cash to splash) rents herself a one-woman room then endeavors to reinvent herself via an all-out makeover, our protagonist getting a new wardrobe and recoloring-restyling her hair, Ingrid going from brunette to Taylor-blonde, her image now mirroring that of the ultra-chic Sloane. Having forged a spankin’ new persona, Ingrid quickly starts frequenting Taylor’s preferred restaurants/ hangout spots and reading her fave books, this in the hope of gaining the attention of, or bumping into, the glossy socialite.
But, when all attempts at connecting with Taylor fail, Ingrid engineers a meet-up-quick scheme involving the Insta-star’s pooch, Rothko. And snap! Before long Ingrid and Taylor are instant besties, the duo driving down to Joshua Tree for a night of caned partying under the stars, the girls getting high on ganja and trading secrets just like real-life BFFs — Taylor, at one point, even calls Ingrid her ‘favorite person ever.’ There’s a scene here that sees the ladies sing along to K-Ci & JoJo’s ‘All My Life’ whilst zooming down a desert highway, this fleeting flash of happiness giving off a fun and trashy yet subtly tragic Thelma & Louise type vibe; we, as an audience, can almost sense what’s coming, the moment a mere delusion, fabricated just like Taylor’s picture-perfect digital imprint.
As time wears on, Ingrid’s digital mask (just like most Internet fads) slowly begins to falter, the abrupt arrival of Taylor’s douche-bag, coke-snorting brother Nicky (Billy Magnussen) threatening to bring down her entire charade, the sociopathic yahoo, who claims that he’s simply ‘lookin’ out for his sis,’ determined to expose Ingrid as a manipulative creeper, guilty of identity theft. And so, our atypical heroine soon begins to realize that reality, unlike Instagram, cannot be cropped or filtered, as life is anything but an Internet-based photo-sharing application.
Premiering at Sundance, where it won the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award, Ingrid Goes West is an unruly mix of drama, pathos and lampoonery — think Single White Female (1992) updated for the hashtag generation. Co-written by David Branson Smith, along with director Spicer, the screenplay is laugh-out-loud funny, the humor layered with biting subtext. Yes, the narrative openly pokes fun at our digital habits and L.A. culture with screwy success, but it also explores the darker side of social media and identity in the 21st century, or lack thereof, as well as the unseen loneliness behind those who crave online affirmation, our titular character, Ingrid, a needy figure who lacks a solid personality — she’s so reliant on crazes and technology yet desperate for human connection and a place to fit in. (So, does having 100K online Followers really enrich one’s life or are these fixations robbing us of ‘self?’) Either way, at a scant 97-minutes, the messages of Ingrid Goes West ring loud and clear.
Anchoring the film, the amazing Aubrey Plaza, Safety Not Guaranteed (2012), totes throws herself into the role of Ingrid, and truly owns it, the big, brown-eyed bombshell delivering her best, and most nuanced performance to date. It’s Plaza who makes this troubled character (who’s borderline psychotic) likeable, Ingrid’s awkwardness and vulnerability making her fairly empathetic, the 33-year-old actress-comedian ensuring that audiences really get inside of Ingrid’s psyche — I honestly felt for the girl and wanted her to succeed. On the opposite end of the spectrum is Taylor Sloane, a brilliantly branded lifestyle guru who drops superlatives like they’re goin’ out of fashion, the wonderful Elizabeth Olsen, Liberal Arts (2012), portraying a kool-kat hippy-chick who appears to have it all together (or does she?), the self-absorbed cyber-star not afraid to humiliate or belittle others in order to boost her online status — in one scene, Taylor makes a poor gas station attendant lie on the ground, face in the dirt, so that he can capture her next Insta-portrait at ‘just right angle.’
Then there’s O’Shea Jackson Jr., Straight Outta Compton (2015), who steals all of his scenes as Ingrid’s California-cool landlord Dan Pinto, the character operating as a sorta moral compass for the audience — here’s a guy who can see straight through Taylor’s outward masquerade. Unlike Ingrid, Dan owns who he is — even if that’s a Batman-lovin’ wannabe screenwriter — this ‘Dark Knight’ (dropping hilarious lines such as ‘Gotham needs you!’ during a Batman-inspired bedroom scene) working as a semi-love interest for Ingrid, Jackson Jr. — with his sheer earnestness, energy and quick-witted delivery — one of the flick’s shining beacons. Then, sporting a ridicules man-bun, we have Wyatt Russell, Table 19 (2017), who plays Taylor’s technophobic, no-talent pop-artist hubby, Ezra — whose ‘art’ consists of pre-purchased bargain-bin paintings with hipster slogans like #SquadGoals slapped over the top — and Billy Magnussen, Bridge of Spires (2015), as Taylor’s detestable beefcake bro, Nicky, with Pom Klementieff, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017), ‘checking in’ as his new social-media-savvy fling, Harley Chung.
Captured in gorgeous anamorphic widescreen (using Panavision C-Series lenses), the gleaming cinematography by DOP Bryce Fortner (who hails from a background in television) wholly elevates proceedings, these patchy yet pristine visuals complementing the sunny albeit disquieting flavor, while the fitting music by Nick Thorburn and Jonathan Sadoff accentuates the irrational, oddball antics of our deluded heroine.
Ultimately, Ingrid Goes West is a commendable effort by the gifted on-and-off-screen team, Matt Spicer’s freshman picture showing plenty of promise. Undeniably entertaining, this one’s a real discussion-starter (via twitter and online forums, no doubt), the flick tackling today’s ‘increasingly problematic’ cyber-culture with a cynically playful touch, Spicer’s movie suggesting that, in the end, it’s our actions that define us — and not the number of Likes or Followers we have. Despite the finale lacking the punch of what preceded it, Ingrid Goes West is definitely worth a peep, the film a foray into the mind of an anxious iGeneration addict. Admit it, whether jumping online to stalk our colleagues or ex-lovers or using social networking sites to jack up our ego, there’s a little bit of Ingrid inside us all!
3.5 / 5 – Great
Reviewed by S-Littner