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Review: Ingrid Goes West (2017)

Ingrid Goes West (2017)

Directed by: Matt Spicer

Premise: Ingrid is a socially maladjusted women (Aubrey Plaza) who lives her entire life through her phone and her sense of self-worth hinges upon her social media activity. Ingrid begins stalking an Instagram celebrity (Elizabeth Olsen) and ingratiates herself into her life.

What Works: Ingrid Goes West is a dark comedy with a singular sense of humor. It may not appeal to a broad audience and the movie depends upon the viewer’s tolerance for difficult characters. Virtually everyone in this movie is a terrible person; in the opening sequence Ingrid crashes a wedding and maces the bride in the face. The characters of this movie are vapid and superficial. In many respects they are the west coast version of the characters in Bret Easton Ellis stories like American Psycho and The Rules of Attraction. However, there is one important difference between the psychopaths of Ellis’ fiction and the characters of Ingrid Goes West. Although everyone in this film is terrible in his or her own way, the filmmakers don’t ridicule these people. Instead, the movie portrays them as lost souls who are captured by a culture in which art and self-worth are all determined by likes and shares on social media. The characters, especially Ingrid, seem dimly aware of this fact and the movie is more than just a lampoon of contemporary values. Several of the characters are frustrated with the emptiness of their existence and the filmmakers see these people with compassion and pathos. In that respect, Ingrid  Goes West is a smart film about the age in which we live and it successfully distills something essential about American culture in the social media age. Thankfully, the filmmakers don’t belabor the point. The movie’s critique of contemporary values plays out naturally and a lot of it is funny in a painfully awkward way. This is a story of people struggling to make meaningful connections with each other and with the world and the film is supported by some very good performances. Ingrid Goes West is led by Aubrey Plaza in the title role. This is the perfect role for Plaza; she is required to be mean and awkward but also accessible and as awful as Ingrid can be there is a yearning for meaning and human connection underlining her performance. Elizabeth Olsen is also quite good as Taylor, the Instagram model who is the object of Ingrid’s obsession. Olsen is paired with Billy Magnussen as Taylor’s drug addicted brother and Magnussen is malevolently dysfunctional. Also joining the cast is O’Shea Jackson Jr. as Ingrid’s landlord and a would-be screenwriter; his interest in Batman is earnest and meaningful in a way that their Instagram lives are not.

What Doesn’t: Once Ingrid befriends Taylor it becomes clear where the movie is going. Ingrid Goes West works through the “little white lie” story formula and doesn’t deviate from it at all. When the truth is inevitably exposed, the filmmakers don’t seem quite sure what to do with the story. The film works itself up to a crisis but it doesn’t exploit that crisis for maximum dramatic impact. Like its title character, Ingrid Goes West stumbles through most of its late portion before finally arriving at an appropriately ironic finale. It’s too much to call Ingrid Goes West a satire but the film is clearly trying to say something about our identities in the age of social media. The film isn’t very revelatory. Ingrid Goes West is full of characters who are fake and shallow and it exposes how contemporary culture and social media construct a veneer of sophistication and happiness that’s nothing more than an illusion. Ingrid Goes West doesn’t delve very deeply into that idea although it does dramatize it well. 

Bottom Line: For viewers who get it, Ingrid Goes West is an enjoyable movie with some strong performances. It is also a movie that captures this particular moment in our culture and in years to come it may be a defining title of this decade.

Episode: #663 (September 3, 2017)