With the end of 2017 almost here, I’m trying to catch up on some of the movies I missed throughout the year. Next up: Ingrid Goes West, the debut film from writer-director Matt Spicer.
It seems like at least once a month a famous Instagram model has a meltdown and posts an explanation of how they’ve doctored all of their photos to hide all of their physical imperfections or how most of what they’ve posted about has been paid for by various companies. It’s the social media-era equivalent of Fiona Apple using an MTV stage to warn late 90s kids to reject celebrity culture and entertainment media. Yet while some hail such suddenly-honest Instagram models as brave others simply ignore them and continue obsessively sifting through the 5 million images uploaded to Instagram per day. Selena Gomez canceled her account and entered rehab for depression and social media addiction after becoming the most followed person on Instagram? Oh, well. There’ll always be someone else to take her place.
It’s with all of that in mind that Matt Spicer, his co-writer David Branson Smith and star/producer Aubrey Plaza made Ingrid Goes West, a black dramedy that combines Single White Female, Talented Mr. Ripley, and Don Jon to tackle the subject of Instagram addiction.
We meet the titular Ingrid, played to perfection by Plaza, at an extreme low point. She’s sitting in her car just outside of a wedding she wasn’t invited to and ugly crying while looking at Instagram pictures shared by the bride, who really does seem to be having the type of fairy tale wedding ceremony you always dream of. We are meant to assume Ingrid and the bride know each other.
They don’t. Not really. The bride is just someone Ingrid stalked on Instagram and unsuccessfully tried to become friends with. The rejection broke her, to the point that she eventually storms into the wedding reception and sprays maze in the bride’s eyes. This lands Ingrid in a mental hospital, where we learn via montage and voiceover she’s been having emotional problems since her mom died, but she’s trying her best to be present in life and not seek validation through social media.
Of course, if that was true, if Ingrid truly had already learned her lesson and changed for the better, there’d be no movie. So, as soon as she gets out she uses her mom’s life insurance money to move from Pennsylvania to California (thus the Goes West part of the title) to stalk her latest Instagram obsession, Taylor Sloane, an everyday-is-an-adventure type played by Elizabeth Olsen, who is used so sparingly it feels like she worked the movie in-between bigger projects.
Ingrid Single White Female’s (gets the same hairstyle, eats at the same restaurants, shops at the same boutique stores) her way into becoming friends with Taylor, and learns exactly how to become a social media influencer just like her. The longer she’s friends with Taylor, though, the more she starts to see just how completely manufactured her life is. Will this eye-opening encounter cure Ingrid of her addiction?
In a different movie, probably. But this movie isn’t interested in giving Ingrid such an obvious character arc. It’s too aware of the underlying sadness and loneliness behind her addiction to give her an easy “I learned something today” ending. Instead, the second half of the film veers into black comedy setpieces that play to Plaza’s preternatural gift for nonplussed, “Why are you being so weird about this?” line readings (no one can ask a complete stranger to punch her in the face quite like Plaza), and [spoiler] builds to what is basically a repeat of the opening scene. The ultimate message of the film is still fairly predictable, but whether Ingrid actually learns anything is debatable, which gives the whole thing a surprisingly black heart.
Spicer’s Don Jon-esque use of close-ups on Ingrid’s eyes perfectly captures the look of obsession, and like seemingly most indies these days the tone never settles on comedy or drama because life is too complicated to be so easily boxed in. The script wisely gives Ingrid a Batman-loving, aspiring screenwriter landlord (O’Shae Jackson Jr.) to function as a true friend she can open up to. They share a lovely dinner scene where Ingrid genuinely connects with someone for the first time in the whole movie and doesn’t know how to react. What happens after that is so surprisingly sweet and authentic that it ranks as one of my favorite movie moments of the year.
Ingrid Goes West is currently available to rent on iTunes, Amazon, Vudu, and wherever else you rent movies. If you like it also seek out Tragedy Girls, a horror comedy about two girls and the crazy shit they’ll do to become social media influencers.