Perfect paired with a few beers and a Xanax, Matt Spicer’s Ingrid Goes West is a psycho-stalker comedy that’s as unsettling and hilarious as a 12-year’s mexi-stache . Aubrey Plaza is devilishly weird as an Instagram-obsessed pariah, a Peeping Jane who turns to social Play-Doh to emulate those of higher social standing, but the role is more than meets the eye. Ingrid befriends up the ladder by copying the purchasing habits of her “friends”, buying the same designer bag or sharing the same favorite breakfast joint, phishing for likes, comments and follows but mostly on the hunt for a new #BFF. Though side-splitting funny, Ingrid Goes West dares to be more than a laugh, unleashing some powerful material essential to our conversations on social media and self-worth.
The film opens at a beautiful and joyous wedding. Parked outside, the brightness on her iPhone basking her in an ominous, sickly glow, Ingrid sulks. Ugly crying. Jamming her way through posts of the wedding not 100-yards from her, one that she was not invited to. Ingrid loses her shit and enters the nuptial festivities claws swinging. She digs the bride, assaulting her with questions of her absent invitation and cuss words. This is Ingrid in a nutshell. A volatile, screws-loose nut with obsessive and violent tendencies. And she’s just found a new friend.
Absconding west with the delusional hope of falling in friendship with a popular Instagram photographer (merely because she once commented “I love new friends!”), Ingrid’s new found target Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen) has no idea the manic devotion in store. From stealing her dog to almost killing her brother (Billy Magnussen), there is no line the title character will not character to get what she wants. To Ingrid, love and affection from Taylor is to be purchased at any price. And the film is willing to take us to some pretty dark places to see just what depths she is willing to plunge to.
Ingrid Goes West plays around with the notion that nothing shared is sacred, allowing Plaza’s deranged character to access every nook and cranny of Taylor’s life vis-à-vis oversharing. While it isn’t the only female-led horror-comedy to comment on social media culture this year, and would make a great double-feature with Tyler MacIntyre’s similarly-themed if more gory and campy Tragedy Girls, Spicer’s film finds some objective truths that cut throughout the batty hi-jinx and larger-than-life characters. Surely the should-be scary reality that social media creeping of Ingrid’s nature is not only realistic but probably happening each and every day all across the globe is note-worthy, though not remarkably unique in any sense, but the whole conceit revolving around Ingrid’s shallow obsession with more “successful” people is an interesting and eventually much more rich intellectual and emotional avenue to explore.
As we journey through the film, we see Taylor shift from a goddess of cool, the self-branding, all organic Venice Beach chic, a tastemaker essential to defining what is in vogue, to a shallow impersonator, an empty girl looking for meaning in tastefully (but overindulgently) manufactured and generously-liked posts. “Fame” in 2017 is an odd thing, what with people the likes of Cameron Dallas (an online “personality” my sister and her boyfriend hardcore fan-boyed out over when we saw him in Maui last month) earning squeals of delight from “fans”. “What does he do,” I foolishly asked. “Nothing really”, they answered in unison, “but he’s got like 20 million followers.”
Popularity has become a seductive matrix of clicks, a rabbit hole of lemmings with smart phones, and Ingrid Goes West does subtle work taking that reality to task. Spicer’s satirizing is sharp – these sparkling images, the glossy arrangements, manipulated lighting and flawless bodies, aren’t worth more than the not-paper that they’re printed on. Ingrid’s reluctance to actually judge a book beyond the cover – a critical metaphor that’s played with throughout the film – mimics our cultural acceptance of face-value. This vacuous obsession with hollow tapestries of zen and health and adventure has turned society into a rabid fanboy culture of pedestalizing the veneer. Ingrid, thankfully, evolves into a rejection of that state. But not without some prompting.
Though she could easily be a one-dimensional loon, a third-rate Cable Girl, Ingrid finds a complexity that a lesser, more black and white picture may not have managed. Yes, she is a deeply flawed individual but not one entirely without merit. Her dynamic relationship with chilled out landlord Dan (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) is representative of her redemptive qualities as well as her most sinister ones. As Ingrid leads into a devastating and sobering final stretch, Spicer manages to abandon his comedic impulses, leaving the viewer with an urgent plea about self-worth in this social media age that resonates far after the laughs have ceased.
CONCLUSION: Dark, awkward comedy ‘Ingrid Goes West’ has plenty of uncomfortable laughs and wince-worthy situations but poses potent, pressing commentary about the dark consequences of social media oversharing. Star Aubrey Plaza is heartbreaking and strange as hell as a twisted stalker desperate for friends and attention and any fan of hers ought to seek out this sleeper hit immediately.