Since her days as April Ludgate on Parks and Recreation, I have been a fan of Aubrey Plaza’s dark, very dry sense of humor and subtle character work. I’ve enjoyed seeing her in more movies over the past few years, even as they often seem like different shades of the same character. In Ingrid Goes West, she has her biggest film role to date, playing a character whose bizarre antics provide a large range of scenes in which Plaza can stretch her skills.
In Ingrid Goes West, Plaza plays Ingrid, a woman who ends up institutionalized after pepper spraying a bride whose life she became obsessed with over Instagram. Still grieving her mother’s recent death, after her release, a lonely Ingrid decides to take her $60,000 inheritance and move to Los Angeles to become like, or become friends with, the newest It Girl of Instagram, Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen). Once Ingrid contrives to get into Taylor and her husband Ezra’s (Wyatt Russell) inner circle, she begins to see that their life isn’t as perfect and authentic as Taylor’s perfectly curated Instagram feed suggests. That doesn’t stop Ingrid from getting herself and her new boyfriend, Dan (O’Shea Jackson Jr.), into some serious trouble while trying to stay in with the IG crowd.
Ingrid Goes West is an odd film, but the mixture of satire and slow-burning suspense works well. As fun as it is to watch Ingrid imitate the life she sees online, it is also painfully awkward and foreboding. It seems obvious that the situation will not end well and dread over how gives the funnier moments a darker edge. The film’s ambiguous ending also balances a seemingly happy conclusion with the bite of the satire.
The screenplay is so sympathetic to Ingrid that it manages to critique obsession with social media while carefully telling a story driven by Instagram. Ingrid’s desire for connection is genuine and pervasive, and her addiction to Instagram is like a bandaid for a bullet wound. The film dramatizes the common critique of social media that it provides a sense of connection that is only superficial, so that people seem more connected while growing lonelier. In satirizing the curated lives of Instagram, Ingrid Goes West manages to get to the complexities of adult friendship while making fun of how it is performed online. The characters are flawed and unlikeable, but nuanced, bringing out the critique of Instagram in a more thoughtful way than simply calling people superficial or phony.
The performances strongly bring out the character development. Aubrey Plaza has plenty of scenes that feature her signature offbeat sense of humor, but she also has some resonant emotional scenes. She embodies the subtleties of the film’s satire. Elizabeth Olsen makes Taylor at once charming and grating. She makes the character more than a flat foil for Ingrid. She isn’t inauthentic, but she also isn’t exactly what she appears to be. The real surprise of the film is O’Shea Jackson Jr who is warm and personable as Dan, who, despite his Batman obsession, is the goofy voice of reason in the movie. His chemistry with Plaza is funny and unexpected.
Ingrid Goes West is bizarre and sometimes slow, but the characters are well drawn and the story is balanced and intriguing. I rate it 4 of 5 stars.
Ingrid Goes West was written by David Branson Smith and directed by Matt Spicer. It runs 97 minutes and is rated R for language, drug use, some sexual content, and disturbing behavior.
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