Premiered at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, first time director Matt Spicer’s film is about damaged young Instagram addict Ingrid Thorburn (Aubrey Plaza) who, after a brief stay in an institution, following an attack on a former friend that she was stalking online, develops a new obsession with L.A. based Instagram celebrity Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen) and using the money left to her by her recently deceased mother, Ingrid moves to L.A., models her life/appearance on that of Taylor’s, and ingratiates herself into Taylor’s life by stealing her dog and then returning it to her. As the two of them become friends, Ingrid starts to enjoy her exciting, brand new life and her new best friend but inevitably, the cracks begin to appear and as Taylor moves further away, it becomes clear that Ingrid will do absolutely anything to hold on to her famous friend.
We may as well start off with the film’s biggest asset by a country mile: Aubrey Plaza is magnificent in the title role. Rather than going directly down the “dangerous, unhinged stalker” route, Plaza’s Ingrid is fundamentally human, particularly fragile, vulnerable and often unsure of just who she is, and even though Ingrid makes some very bad decisions, particularly at the end where she goes off the deep end, spiralling as she becomes more unstable, she is actually a very likeable and sympathetic character who you could really care about. Plaza demonstrates plenty of versatility as she gets to be unhinged, unpredictable and dangerous but she’s also quite funny at certain points and in other parts, when she bares her soul, she is genuine and can illicit all the feels from the audience. Aubrey Plaza is excellent in this film, playing a fascinating, flawed and fragile character and it may just be one of my favourite performances of the year so far. Only the best from my girl April Ludgate!
Elsewhere, Elizabeth Olsen is great as social media star Taylor Sloane; despite the fact that so much of her life is essentially fake and that Taylor is quite a shallow, materialistic person, Olsen is never insufferable and she has loads of fun portraying this darling of the online world, always on the lookout to increase her online following. Straight Outta Compton‘s O’Shea Jackson Jr. also gets a great role as Ingrid’s Batman-obsessed “landlord”, an aspiring writer who later becomes a friend and potential romantic interest; Jackson is charismatic, grounded and very likeable and his character is a reminder that if Ingrid would only stop her pointless quest to remain friends with the famous celebrity, then she could have a real, fulfilling, normal life alongside a real person, a kindred spirit and true friend (as well as some incredible Batman themed sex! Oh, did I just lower the tone?)
Wyatt Russell, from the “Playtest” episode of Black Mirror, is very good as Ezra, Taylor’s technophobic husband; he’s very level-headed, staying well away from social media and as the film goes on, his relationship with Taylor becomes increasingly strained as the two of them are very different people and it’s quite possible that the whole marriage is a fake, something purely for the Instagram crowd. Billy Magnussen is also incredibly nasty and unfeeling as Taylor’s brother, turning into the antagonist of the piece, and Guardians of the Galaxy‘s Pom Klementieff puts in a brief appearance as Instagram superstar Harley Chung, with whom Taylor cosies up to as she attempts to advance her own social media standing.
The writing and direction of Ingrid Goes West is spot on as it’s an imaginative, eventful story, it has a clear structure and a breezy pace, there are no plot holes or anything, and overall, it’s so easy to just get lost in the story, into the world that these characters are living in; it’s an immersive experience and, at 1 hr 38 minutes, I would definitely not have objected to an even longer runtime, spending two more hours in these characters’ world. While it can be enjoyable to watch, with a bit of (dark) comedy to be found occasionally, the film also manages to be disturbing and unpredictable in specific places while also being genuinely sad and heartfelt in others; there are a number of moods and tones in Ingrid Goes West and director Matt Spicer balances it all excellently.
The film also tackles some big, timely themes, most noticeably how out of control social media can become and how it can completely take over our lives, turning us into something we’re not. In Ingrid’s case, social media is an escape from a world where she has nothing else, having lost her mother, her best friend, and because of her obsession, she desperately struggles to figure out just who she is – there’s the real her and then there’s the artificial persona that she puts on when around Taylor. All of the film’s big themes and issues are never obvious or preachy and while watching it all play out on the big screen, these messages seem to have genuine reason to be told and it all stays with you after the credits have rolled.
Ingrid Goes West is also beautiful to look at as the colours are so bright and vibrant – not surprising, given that it’s picture perfect L.A. in the lives of the rich and famous. The music is also a perfect accompaniment; there’s something of a Psycho inspired theme, which also manages to be quite lighthearted and fun, and at the beginning and end, there’s Hawaiian music that fits perfectly, since it’s made to be associated with Ingrid’s psychiatric institution, reinforcing the theme of wanting to escape mundanity, having dreams/goals and moving away to some hidden Utopia. The licensed tracks work wonderfully too.
Smiling face emojii.