It doesn’t need to be stated that social media has become an inseparable facet of modern life. With even the President of the United States using Twitter at a seemingly unstoppable rate, there is certainly a case to made that society has come to rely on it for constant stimulation and personal validation. Film and television have tackled this phenomenon for several years now with a wide range of genre and quality, from David Fincher’s biographical drama The Social Network to the low budget horror flick Unfriended to Black Mirror‘s recent episode ‘Nosedive’. Ingrid Goes West, the debut feature-length effort from director Matt Spicer, is the latest in this small wave that explores social media’s impact on how we interact with each other.
Starring Aubrey Plaza, most famous for her deadpan character April on NBC’s Parks and Recreation, the dark comedy follows Ingrid Thorburn (Plaza), an Instagram addict with a tendency to stalk popular online figures. After Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen), an Instagram celebrity, gives a brief response to Ingrid’s comment on one of her photos, Ingrid is inspired to move to California to be Taylor’s friend. After enough stalking, Ingrid does manage to finally put herself into a position where she and Taylor become friends naturally, and their ensuing relationship becomes the focal point of the movie.
It’s usually telling that a film is going to be driven by its main character’s performance when their name is in the title. Ingrid Goes West is no different. Undoubtedly Aubrey Plaza’s most nuanced performance yet, Ingrid is clearly a disturbed individual, but nevertheless likable. She’s also painfully awkward and many of the movie’s funniest moments consist of nervously laughing at her socially unacceptable behavior. The cast as a whole is rather enjoyable with not a single weak link among them. O’Shea Jackson Jr. as Ingrid’s Batman-obsessed landlord Dan has great chemistry with Plaza and, in addition to providing a valuable grounding to her character, has competent comedic timing himself. Elizabeth Olsen as Taylor Sloane, Ingrid’s latest fixation, also plays her part well as a stereotypical basic Instagram celebrity. Living her life through her iPhone camera and exaggerating everything in a flawless Southern California accent, Taylor is certainly a fun character to watch because of how closely she walks the line of parody.
Underneath its popping, colorful cinematography and genuinely funny moments, Ingrid Goes West is ultimately a tragedy, crossing the very dark topics of loneliness and suicide. It doesn’t aim to do a very thorough exploration of either, but it does manage to offer an effective, satirical portrait of 21st century life. The real irony of the story is that Ingrid is a lonely individual looking for real, meaningful relationships with people, but turns to social media to solve this problem rather than authentic interaction. With the ubiquity of social media it’s easy for people like Ingrid to look online and see everyone having friends but her, while in reality many of those friends are often only superficial. Over the course of the movie, Ingrid does appear to form a real romantic relationship with her landlord Dan, but when given a choice she often sidelines him for Taylor.
When Ingrid is finally rejected by Taylor after being ousted as an obsessive stalker, she tries to kill herself and broadcasts her suicide note to all her followers. The film ends with Ingrid in a hospital, finding herself not only be alive, but famous from her viral broadcast. It’s a particularly ironic and sad ending. Instead of learning her lesson from her fling with Taylor, it becomes fairly evident that Ingrid will continue to look to social media for meaningful relationships and likely become even more self-destructive as a result.
Ingrid Goes West ultimately could have been made without the backdrop of social media and the message would remain intact. In a broad sense, the movie is about the desire to find true friendship and meaning in one’s life. Ingrid makes the age-old mistake that many lonely teenagers make, misperceiving popularity as having real friends and happiness. It’s a similar idea to 2004’s Mean Girls, which coincidentally happened to be made right before the outbreak of social media. Ingrid Goes West uses Instagram as a means of updating this message to the current times, conveying the idea that social media ultimately paints a fabrication of people’s lives and should never be considered a documentary of them. As a directorial debut, Ingrid Goes West is an awkwardly amusing and entertaining triumph, and offers a bold performance from Aubrey Plaza.