Ingrid Goes West

Studio: Neon
Directed by Matt Spicer

Aug 09, 2017 Issue #61 - Grizzly Bear
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The premise, cast and trailer of Ingrid Goes West sell the film as a dark satire about the vapidity of millennial social media culture. And that’s partially true. The film begins with a scenario that almost exactly matches the climax of the Black Mirror episode “Nose Dive”, in which the protagonist violently disrupts a wedding from which she was excluded. Following her misadventure, Ingrid Thorburn is committed to a psychiatric hospital. Upon her release, she uses the $60,000 willed to her by her recently deceased mother to start a new life in Los Angeles. Upon arrival, she ingratiates herself into the life and social circle of Taylor Sloane, a photographer who makes her living by being professionally gorgeous and hip on Instagram. As her relationship with Taylor deepens, Ingrid finds herself going to increasingly destructive lengths to maintain her new lifestyle and friendships.

Director/co-writer Matt Spicer – making his feature length debut – provides plenty of fodder for anyone looking to grumble about kids these days with their damn smart phones. Ingrid enters a near catatonic trance while mechanically liking every post on her feed. Featured posts are read aloud via voiceover by the characters making them, complete with hashtags and emojis. His satire smartly avoids devolving into outright parody though, acknowledging that much of this behavior is now a part of everyday life and a genuine form of currency in certain cultural circles. Of greatest interest to Spicer and the film is Ingrid herself, who shares more cinematic DNA with Travis Bickle of Taxi Driver than she does with Hannah Horvath and the cast of Girls.

As played by Aubrey Plaza, Ingrid is a toxic blend of insecurity, FOMO and Terminator-like perseverance. Best known for her performances as caustic weirdo April Ludgate on Parks and Recreation and as various ultra-confident, hypersexualized ladybros in a growing number of dumbshit studio comedies, Plaza has found the ideal vehicle for deconstructing her persona in Ingrid Goes West. Ingrid is a person who wants nothing more than to be an Aubrey Plaza character and the film’s tension and pathos is mined from her total failure to accomplish said goal. Plaza dials down her usual bravado while maintaining her intense gaze, forceful monotone and awkward physical presence, creating a character that remains compelling and sympathetic despite her increasingly loathsome actions. It’s an admirably deft effort by Plaza to demonstrate her untapped dramatic potential while remaining within the comedic wheelhouse she’s established for herself.

As Taylor and her artist husband Ezra, Elizabeth Olsen and Wyatt Russell walk a fine line between obnoxious hipster douchebags and genuinely engaging, kind people, creating targets worthy of both Ingrid’s obsession and audience sympathy. The sunny cinematography depicting L.A. and the surrounding desert is – dare I say – Instaworthy. The score is jaunty and playful, rather than the frantic EDM one would expect from a movie revolving around Instagram and lifestyle porn. The only notable misstep is in the relationship between Ingrid and Dan, her roommate turned confidant. Although he’s a great character – an aspiring screenwriter fueled by weed and a charming Batman obsession – and played with tremendous warmth by Straight Outta Compton star O’Shea Jackson, his relationship with Ingrid feels increasingly unbelievable as the film goes on. It culminates in an ending which – in a fashion remarkably similar to Taxi Driver – can be interpreted as either a subversive twist or a sudden abandonment of the film’s thesis. 

Author rating: 8/10

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