Ingrid Goes West * 2017 * Rated R * 1 Hour 38 Minutes
At one point in Ingrid Goes West, Dan Pinto, played by O’Shea Jackson Jr., describes the life cycle of superhero crime fighting to Aubrey Plaza’s Ingrid Thorburn: Batman arrests people, takes them to Arkham Asylum, they possibly get out a few months later, and the cycle continues. It’s not that different from the cycle of internet fame and stalking, as the movie shows us.
We meet Ingrid as she’s sitting in a car outside of a wedding, watching the bride’s instagram feed in real time and crying. After a few minutes of this, Ingrid gets out of the car and storms toward the reception tent. She pulls out a can of mace and sprays it in the bride’s eyes, yelling that it’s payback for not inviting her to the wedding.
The groom tackles Ingrid as she tries to escape, and we see her next in a mental ward. We find out that she wasn’t even friends with the bride or groom, instead the bride had commented on her instagram feed once, and that was enough to trigger Ingrid to stalk her and consider them friends.
When she gets out of the hospital, Ingrid is a depressed shell. She has no personality of her own without an internet obsession to model herself after. She reads about her next obsession, a Los Angeles instablogger named Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen) in a magazine, then uses the cash she inherited from her mother to move there to be closer to Taylor.
Once there, she moves into Taylor’s neighborhood in Venice and follows all of Taylor’s instagram recommendations. Before long, she could be Taylor’s sister. Then she engineers a meeting with Taylor that leads to a dinner invitation. She imagines herself becoming best friends with her obsession, and Taylor’s penchant for calling everyone and everything her best, her favorite, or her most loved inadvertently leads Ingrid on.
It all comes to a head when Ingrid’s love interest and landlord Dan, and Taylor’s dickish brother Nicky (Billy Magnussen), get involved. The cracks in both women’s lives are exposed and Ingrid is tested to her limits.
Ingrid Goes West is a dark comedy that gets very dark close to the end, but pulls out an ending worthy of Ingrid’s tenacity. It’s all about cycles, masks, and reinventing yourself to get through the tough times. When are those masks so fake that they’re toxic? When are they a life-saving coping mechanism? When are they both?
It’s a complex subject, and the movie manages to show the levels of mental health and illness swirling through the characters, while also giving us enough backstory to remain sympathetic to them through most of their mistakes. In some ways, we are all Ingrid, Dan and Taylor, struggling to collect followers (follow button on the right!), sell our script, or make new friends, despite the yawning emptiness we feel inside. Ingrid simply acts out the desperation most of us have learned to internalize or deny, which isn’t to say she should be let off the hook for her actions, and she isn’t.
But besides asking these tough questions, Ingrid Goes West works on a more shallow level as a sun soaked, neon lit, dark comedy about life in modern LA in all its avocado toast eating, flea market shopping, Joshua tree sightseeing glory. Southern California is a beautiful, quirky place, and the filmmakers turned their film into a long postcard from the beach, city and desert. They lovingly send up the lifestyle they themselves live (writer/director Matt Spicer and co-writer David Branson Smith both live in Los Angeles).
Like the film itself, the comedy can get very dark, but it’s very funny. Dan is obsessed with Batman, and at one point there is a Batman/Catwoman themed sex scene that’s worth the price of admission alone. Pom Klementieff (Guardians of the Galaxy 2) is on hand in a mostly background role that she makes the most of. Dan and Ingrid have comedic as well as romantic chemistry. Elizabeth Olsen hams it up when it comes time to pose for her instagram feed, laying the flattery and the demands on anyone who’s nearby so that she can get the perfect shot.
But Aubrey Plaza is the star of this show. She’s in almost every scene, and her emotions run the gamut from zombie-like depression, to rage, to fleeting happiness. Underneath it all, you can always feel Ingrid’s neediness and loneliness. Much of the humor comes from the times that Ingrid goes just a little, or a lot, too far, and has to get herself out of a situation, like a stalker Lucille Balle.
Somehow it works, and that’s because of the lead actor and the brilliant writing, combined. (Ingrid Goes West won the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.) The writers keep their jabs restrained so that the audience is never cringing to the point of alienation from any of the characters, except for the one who is meant to be the villain. But they also show us the reality of their characters, good and bad. This is a smart movie that will leave you thinking about the role of social media in your own life, and possibly some of your own real life relationships. The beginning and ending play into the theme of cycles, leaving the viewer with more to ponder as well.
It could have been nice to go a little deeper into the characters’ backstories, but I really don’t have any complaints about this movie. Whether or not a viewer enjoys it comes down to whether they enjoy this type of subject matter. It gets cringey at times, but that’s typical of dark comedies.
Overall, Ingrid Goes West is an intelligent, quirky dark comedy about modern life and our reliance on technology to solve every problem. Fans of Aubrey Plaza should love it, along with fans of other modern dark comedies and romances like Her, Lars and the Real Girl, Ruby Sparks and Shaun of the Dead.