Ingrid Goes West
Runtime: 1 hour 37 minutes
Director: Matt Spicer
Starring: Aubrey Plaza, Elizabeth Olsen, O’Shea Jackson Jr., and Wyatt Russell
After a potentially career-defining turn as Lenny Busker in season 1 of Noah Hawley’s X-Men spin-off show Legion, popular awkward-girl Aubrey Plaza once again steps to up the proverbial plate in an dazzlingly dark and relevant film that can be best described as The Cable Guy (1996) for generation Y.
Ingrid Goes West follows the Instagram-obsessed Ingrid, played by Aubrey Plaza, after she’s released from a psychiatric ward following an incident with an acquaintance she knows through Instagram. At some in the recent past, Ingrid’s mother passes away and leaves her $60,000 through a life insurance policy. She then uses that money to move to Los Angeles to stalk and befriend a magazine-published Instagram star, Taylor Sloane, played by Elizabeth Olsen. Along the way she befriends her landlord and eventual romantic suitor, Dan Pinto, played by O’Shea Jackson Jr., and struggles to juggle her relationships with Taylor and Dan while doing everything she can to satiate her obsessive social media addiction.
The filmmaking on display here is lean, energetic, and compelling. First-time feature director Matt Spicer expertly stages the bizarre plot in a way that’s as disturbing as it is entertaining without a hitch. The cast (Aubrey Plaza, Elizabeth Olsen, and O’Shea Jackson Jr.) is every bit as responsible for the film’s success as the director. Plaza uses her innate awkwardness to her advantage, keeping her blatantly psychotic performance just understated enough to have you oddly rooting for her in one scene, but repulsive enough to still make you hate her (in a good way) in other scenes. Elizabeth Olson perfectly emulates the typical avocado-toast loving, LA white girl, so much so that you forget that she’s also an Avenger. O’Shea Jackson Jr. steals the show as Ingrid’s lovable partner-in-crime Dan, who often times falls victim to Ingrid’s destructive impulses. As soon as Jackson’s character is established as being an active participant to the plot, it’s obvious that Ingrid will end up screwing over at some point, and while she does in fact do that more than once, it’s heartwarming to see his persistent dedication to her – in a twisted, unhealthy kind of way. As a result, Ingrid Goes West avoids the easy trap that a lot of indie films fall into: being too boring for the casual moviegoer.
However, while the casual moviegoer may find a lot to like about this film, I suspect the film’s deeper meaning will be lost in its explicit conflict. The anti-social media sentiment that the movie appears to argue with is nothing new to anyone who’s seen even one of those preachy, masturbatory, pseudo-intellectual millennials-are-robots slam poems on Facebook or YouTube. Yes, Ingrid literally spends her days browsing Instagram and drinking beer. She is an antisocial hermit that lives through her phone, but there’s a deeper meaning to Ingrid below the surface. And that deeper message becomes clear about half way into film when Ingrid and Dan go on a date.
Ingrid asks Dan about his obsession with the DC hero Batman, to which he explains that like Batman, he grew up an orphan and was deeply inspired by the character’s feats and successes despite him not having the guidance of his parents growing up, and not having super powers. However, it isn’t Dan who truly relates to the iconic superhero; it’s Ingrid. Like Batman, Ingrid too loses her parents (her mother, whom she calls her best friend, passing away at the start of the film) before assuming a faux-identity (Ingrid forcibly inserting herself into the Taylor’s life) in order to cope with her world. Like Batman, Ingrid doesn’t know who she is: her volatile, Instagram-inspired self or her natural-born self. Like Batman, Ingrid suffers from a total identity crisis. Likewise, all the characters of Ingrid Goes West, and really a lot of people that actively participate in social media, suffer from some form of perpetual existential crisis that is fostered and sustained by the commodification for profit, of self-perception through social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook, albeit to a less extreme extent compared to Ingrid.
American culture is defined by consumerism. Nearly every aspect of American society is commodified for profit no matter the cost socially, economically, or psychologically. Ingrid is an eventuality of our commodity society, a consequence of unchecked Capitalism. Ingrid Goes West is a creatively-made commentary on the current and future state of American psychology on its present course; not to mention an especially accessible indie film that deserves to be seen by as many eyes as possible.