Director: Matt Spicer
Stars: Aubrey Plaza, Elizabeth Olsen, O’Shea Jackson Jr.
Ingrid Thorburn (Aubrey Plaza) is the kind of girl who, if you don’t invite her to your wedding, she’ll crash anyway and mace you in the face to get even. She’s not a stable person. And so it follows that her relationship with social media – platforms which have dramatically altered how we communicate with one another in a staggeringly short space of time – is just as unstable. Rarely without her phone – on which she trawls Instagram, showering her obsessions with love hearts – Ingrid’s life is defined by a level of pronounced isolation, in spite of the artificial sense of community she seeks solace in. Thin-skinned to the point of fragility and mania, the gratification she receives from an innocuous communication with LA social media starlet Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen) sets her on a stalker’s journey to California.
Spicer’s film belts along, getting us to this narrative crux within minutes as the lively score conjures a more spritely Jonny Greenwood when he’s working with Paul Thomas Anderson. That may seem like a highfalutin comparison (and really not much else about Ingrid Goes West warrants this connection) but it does speak to the lively delirium of the movie. That, like the more farcical stretches of Inherent Vice, it might sprint off on a reckless tangent at any moment. Ingrid Goes West ultimately isn’t that volatile, but it threatens to be.
Arriving on the West Coast, Ingrid insinuates herself into Taylor Sloane’s life. Wyatt Russell plays her artist husband Ezra O’Keefe. Ezra exhibits the opposite approach to social media; skeptical and technophobic, valuing his privacy. All things considered this is a valid position to take in this movie, but this does not place him above mockery.
Plaza, meanwhile, was absolutely the right person to cast in this. Ingrid is like a blend of her Parks and Recreation character April Ludgate (deadpan manipulative, couldn’t give a f**k attitude) and the titular zombie girlfriend of underrated apocalypse comedy Life After Beth (channeling similar levels of crazy). Muddled in with that though is a rarely seen tenderness and naivety. Plaza allows it to just crack through Ingrid’s facade. Not so much that it sentimentalises the character, but pronounced enough to lend her proper dimension. Improbably, she conjures our sympathies.
Throughout, the movie presents us people whose lives are in part fictionalised. Taylor has her deftly sculpted online persona; Ingrid has the web of lies spun to mask her motivations; even her new ‘boyfriend’ Dan Pinto (O’Shea Jackson, Jr.) lives within the fantasy that he’s writing the new Batman movie. LA is an environment that positively encourages self-aggrandising behaviour. Hollywood is a dream factory and those dreams seem to spill over, creating a kind of shared delusion. In a world of make-belief, everyone’s pretending.
Spicer mocks this over-sensitive world that social media proliferates; a place in which your local health foods cafe will have a chalkboard asking you to consider “What’s your biggest emotional wound?”. Ingrid might be an online stalker and unhinged obsessive, but she also serves as our window onto a society voluntarily wearing its heart on its sleeve, a place of permanent distractions and narcissistic over-sharing. The film is a deliberate product of its time, openly daring to seem dated within five years as technology and trends restlessly vault forward.
Or maybe it won’t…? Take 2002 J-horror Pulse for instance, in which several characters are oblivious to the internet if not out-right distrusting of it (and, in that film, with good reason). That movie ought to feel dated for its disc drives and desktop browser installations, but instead it has come to feel like an integral document of the anxieties of the millennium. Might Ingrid Goes West be blessed with similar longevity? It’s impossible to say at this time. Maybe.
For the moment, this is an a-typical comedy movie that wears a wry smirk throughout. It clips along, boasts some very cool soundtrack choices and proves – yet again – that Plaza is one of the funniest women out there currently trampling down whatever material happens into her path. The seeming superficiality of its core concern projects the sense that it is a superficial movie, but even if that is the case, on those terms its a rambunctious little riot. But maybe there is more to it? Maybe this is a smart little treaty on how self-documentation augments our behaviour? The very nature of observing something changes it. But if we’re only ever concerned with our own self-image and how we project ourselves, can evolution still exist? #mightnotchangeyourlife #butplentytolove #plaza4ever #YOLO