An unhinged social media stalker moves to LA and insinuates herself into the life of an Instagram star.
Director: Matt Spicer
Writers: David Branson Smith, Matt Spicer
Stars: Aubrey Plaza, Elizabeth Olsen, O’Shea Jackson Jr.
Closed Captioning Available
Have you ever questioned whether you’re slightly obsessed with someone you follow on Twitter, SnapChat or some other social network? Do you get a little too excited when you get a notification about a post, like, or comment on your own account on said networks? If so, not only will “Ingrid Goes West,” which premiered at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival Friday night make you laugh, it might also give you pause. That’s not what you’d expect from a dark comedy about a social media stalker, is it?
The Ingrid in question is Ingrid Thorburn (Aubrey Plaza, also a producer) and when we first meet her it’s abundantly clear she has some boundary issues with a “friend” she’s followed on Instagram. So much so that she sparks a public incident that finds her committed for a time in some sort of mental facility. Upon her release she returns home to find her mother has passed away and she’s inherited a nice sum of money. Unable to disconnect from her phone (so much for therapy) she stumbles across the account of social media influencer Taylor Stone (Elizabeth Olsen), a popular Instagramer who mostly focuses on taking photos of her “hashtag” amazing life and items in the beautiful shops around her Venice neighborhood (among other things). After Taylor innocently replies to one of her comments, Ingrid misinterprets her interest and uses her newfound inheritance to hightail it to California in hopes of meeting her.
Ingrid is nothing but crafty. She uses Instagram like a forensic investigator to profile Taylor, where she lives, what stores and restaurants she visits and what Ingrid’s willing to do to become part of her world is one of the reasons the picture is so inherently hilarious. Most of Ingrid’s actions are beyond outrageous, but you certainly find them plausible. And, oh yes, she finds a way to convince Taylor she’s her new BFF and not some crazy person who has traveled all across the country under false pretenses to do so (and the film does a good job of making you believe Taylor’s interest in Ingrid).
While this is writer and director Matt Spicer’s feature debut, at times he provides spot on insights into online behavior that have certainly never been conveyed on screen before. It’s those observations about users behavior and how these virtual apps can pull out the worst in people that makes the comedy so dark. “Ingrid Goes West” isn’t constituted as a horror film, but some minimal changes to the editing and score a new and you’d believe that was the filmmakers’ intention all along (and that’s a compliment).
Spicer specifically nails it when he takes the time to focus on how Ingrid instinctively rewrites her posts and replies so they illicit the perfect reaction or the jealousy she feels when she realizes Taylor might slowly be moving on to the next new friend (nothing like Instagram to provide an hour by hour timeline of what someone is up to). He also does a superb job ripping the distinct Westside/Venice/Santa Monica white privilege lifestyle Taylor brands herself with (an interesting contrast to the East Side L.A. lifestyle Michelle Morgan mocks in the equally funny “L.A. Times,” also at the fest). Taylor’s home feels trendier than the trendiest boutique hotel, her perfect weekend getaway is their second home near Joshua Tree (Palm Springs? Please) and her husband Ezra (a fantastic Wyatt Russell) spends his day as an artist taking found paintings and slapping hashtags on them (nothing like #SQUADGOALS branded across a decades old landscape).
The movie lives and dies, however, on Ingrid herself and, remarkably, Plaza finds a way for you to root for her even when she crosses line after line after line. There is one moment toward the end of the picture where Ingrid has hit her lowest low and and Plaza delivers a monologue that is somehow moving and comical at the same time. You may root for Ingrid because the vapidness of her virtual relationship or recognizing the inherent nature of so desperately wanting to be friends with someone, but Plaza’s performance is key.
“Ingrid” also benefits from Olsen’s best work since “Martha Marcy May Marlene,” the aforementioned Russell, O’Shea Jackson as Ingrid’s Batman obsessed landlord (showing a completely different side from “Straight Outta Compton”) and, notably, Billy Magnussen as Taylor’s brother Nicky (somehow more self-centered than his sister). When Nicky shows up out of the blue following an extended stay in Paris he immediately recognizes that Ingrid is not what she seems. Magnussen plays Nicky’s contempt for her like an asshole frat boy from a ‘80s teen movie (the slightly off trend pastel short shorts help) and he pretty much steals every scene he’s in.
You can quibble with aspects of “Ingrid” but those criticisms are few and far between. You wish Spicer found a moment or two to provide more details about Ingrid’s backstory, but perhaps its better that she arrives with “almost” a clean slate as it makes her actions more relatable. That’s also why “Ingrid” will stick with you long after you leave the theater. It’s rare that a comedy makes you reconsider your own actions on social media. Apps like Instagram and Twitter can suck you into an abyss of instant gratification and unhealthy addictive behavior that the film expertly demonstrates (perhaps more than it even intended). Will it embarrass you enough to cut the cord or will you laugh it off and own your truth? Or, will you pretend you’re above ever acting in such a manner?
While you ponder that thought excuse me while I take that photo of the cast from the premiere and post it to my Instagram story before no one will care anymore. #tooreal #livingthedream #obsessed #blessed [A-]
-GREGORY ELLWOOD, THE PLAYLIST