Ingrid Goes West is the Aubrey Plaza star vehicle that has been sorely needed since the end of Parks and Rec. With the middling horror-comedy Life After Beth and the unspeakable cinematic crimes of Dirty Grandpa and Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates (both of which Plaza was MVP, admittedly), it is as though she has been awaiting the right role and with Ingrid, the twisted, vulnerable, probably mid-psychosis stalker, she’s got it.
In this film from debut writer/director Matt Spicer, Ingrid becomes obsessed with women living their best life on Instagram and uses her social media stalking skills to enter their lives. There are shades of Single White Female to this premise, and at times it recalls last year’s Always Shine, another zeitgeist biting film that used its reference points of Altman and Bergman as a way to explore the dynamics of female rivalry. Ingrid Goes West doesn’t have the same cinephile DNA but with a script and actors this good, honestly who needs it?
Elizabeth Olsen once again proves herself as one of the best character actors working today. Because of her family connections and the star presence she exuded while bursting onto the scene with Martha Marcy May Marlene (one of the best films of the decade, anchored by her mesmeric performance), Olsen hasn’t really been well served by Hollywood, swallowed up into the black hole of Marvel non-stardom. But between Ingrid Goes West and Wind River, from earlier in the year, Olsen’s versatility is on full display. Her portrayal of Instagram’s wet dream is pitched just below parody, so we believe that she at least buys her own bullshit.
Its this satire of fake-hippy/mindfulness culture that gives the film its punch. The use of Joan Didion and Norman Mailer as signifiers of this are a perfect choice. Here are two American authors beloved for their form and depiction of WASP-y cultural-dominance that is now seen with a more critical eye. That doesn’t stop Taylor and her boyfriend Ezra from buying and selling the image that goes along with these cool, LA set pieces of pop culture. They have built their identities around such signs. Palm trees. Typewriters. At one point a literal sign. Vintage of all kinds. But the belief in using this image of self-promotion to navigate different social strata doesn’t stop the addiction, depression, and failure that engulfs the characters.
This is what the film depicts so well. The fantasy that with the right friendship group or online presence, the right brand, we can shift not just our identity but our very consciousness to attain bliss. The commodification of identity enters a new realm. And even characters who claim to reject populism, find themselves as fixated by the culture as Ingrid. Ezra wants to buy himself as a tortured artist and social critic. Dan’s obsession with Batman (even depicted as his strongest sexual fantasy) cunningly suggests present infantilisation of adults by Superhero culture.
Spicer doesn’t always have the control over tone to know how hard to push the savagely written satire. Some of the antics that should read as terrifying are played as sitcom, which lessens the emotional impact as they aren’t pushed enough in either direction. The camera is rarely used to portray the subjective thought patterns of the characters, aside from when it cleverly employs Instagram imagery as part of the storyspace.
This tonal imbalance does not, however, deplete the necessity of Ingrid Goes West, which explores one of our largest phenomena in a way that, unlike, say, Black Mirror, isn’t self-righteously polemical. It is a wonderful showcase of its actors’ talent that will operate as a cultural time capsule. Essential viewing, in other words.