Ingrid Goes West
Directed by Matt Spicer
Starring: Aubrey Plaza, Elizabeth Olsen, O’Shea Jackson Jr.
Rated R for language throughout, drug use, some sexual content and disturbing behavior
1 hr. 37 min.
It strikes me as appropriate that as the 10th anniversary of the hashtag is observed, Ingrid Goes West remains in wide release. It is a dark comedy, with the predominant emphasis on dark. Put Single White Female, King of Comedy, Nurse Betty and The Talented Mr. Ripley into a mash-up, and you kind of get the thrust here. Mental illness and social media obsession are partners in this film, directed by Matt Spicer and co-written by him with David Branson Smith. Ingrid got excellent word of mouth at Sundance, and Spicer and Smith won the festival’s screenwriting award.
It helps that saucer-eyed Aubrey Plaza, soon to seize the mantle as independent film’s Queen of Quirk, was a producer, and plays the title role. Ingrid is a pretty young woman who, like so many, cannot tear her gaze away from the rectangular object of plastic, metal and glass she holds in her hand, thumbs furiously posting and swiping. The subversively snarky Plaza takes this script and infuses it with irony and sardonic desperation. I’m not sure I’ve ever viewed a comedy where I could see where the laughs were, but wound up more profoundly disturbed by the character’s behavior — and the ramifications of what technology has wrought over the last 20 years. Ingrid, though, is a character who would manifest the same symptoms if all she had were a used Sony Walkman and a payphone at her disposal, so we can’t lay all her problems at the feet of progress.
The film’s opening scene has a roaring Ingrid disrupting the wedding of a social media sensation whose only sin was the honest mistake of responding to one of her Instagram posts. The delusional Ingrid sees this as actual friendship. The result is both comic and shocking. We learn that Ingrid has personal tragedies to deal with, as well as her preoccupation with her smartphone and the world it opens to her.
Soon she finds another subject to fixate on — Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen), a California girl who racks up the likes and hauls in the bucks taking selfies with products. Taylor lives in Venice, California. To see her, ultimately to be her, Ingrid goes west, a tidy inheritance paying her way.
From there, obsession becomes nothing less than stalking. Plaza’s Ingrid is infused with guile and manipulation, but also a likeability that would not exist were she not playing the role. Others in the cast create snorts and guffaws because the roles are strange, but not nearly as off- the-charts as Ingrid. There’s Ezra, Taylor’s husband (Wyatt Russell), a man-bun-wearing, frustrated artist. O’Shea Jackson Jr. (Straight Outta Compton) plays Dan, her Batman-worshipping Venice landlord, whose comic timing is pitch perfect in the midst of chaos. Also amusing, and almost as twisted as Ingrid, is Taylor’s brother Nicky (Billy Magnussen), a conniving slacker who makes Ingrid jealous.
Ingrid Goes West’s wide release has not yet resulted in the kind of box office that was expected, following the raves at Sundance. There might be a simple explanation: Ingrid seeks satisfaction through getting “likes” and going viral. That’s needy, but there’s so much more going on with her mentally; perhaps potential moviegoers don’t want to see themselves in the character. For as sure as you have eyes to read this, you probably know a much less whacked-out Ingrid type, glued to his or her device, making a YouTube star of Charlie Puth or putting more money into Kardashian (K)offers.
It’s a good movie, though; presented, if not with a twinkle in the eye, certainly with a tongue in cheek. It could have been menacing. The humor that shines through dissipates a fog of potential creepiness that may well have made Ingrid a completely distasteful exercise. As it is, real life social media obsession . . . is no laughing matter.