INGRID GOES WEST is kind of like a KING OF COMEDY for the smart phone era. Instead of seeking fame by doing something on television our stalker wants to live a blandly glamorous life on Instagram. But this is not just an update of the ol’ “people will do anything for fame” trope we’ve seen in MAN BITES DOG, NATURAL BORN KILLERS, etc. Sure, Ingrid would love more likes and followers, but mostly she wants attention from one specific person who’s famous on Instagram. So, no big deal, she moves to L.A. to try to find her.
Aubrey Plaza (SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD) is outstanding as Ingrid, a multi-layered role that evokes uncomfortable laughs, creeped-out squirms and also some sympathy. She has comic timing, subtle expressions, pathos, and next-level physical comedy in the scene where she first encounters the famous Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen, OLD BOY) in a store and tries way too hard to browse casually. She’s not so much posing for social media as living life as if she’s inside social media. When she first gets to L.A. she rides around on a bike with a forced “say cheese” smile stuck on her face.
She’s a SINGLE WHITE FEMALE reading what Taylor likes so she can go to the places she goes, eat the things she eats, read (or at least hold) the books she recommends. We watch her struggle to construct the perfect inane one-sentence comment, an online activity soon to be repeated IRL when she finds Taylor and, you know, kidnaps her dog. Just as a way to meet her and start a friendship. It’s all cool, don’t worry about it.
I don’t think it’s accidental that it plays more like a typical (though more artfully photographed) romantic comedy than a thriller. Ingrid lives a lie to impress someone, develops a relationship, is exposed, there are many laughs along the way but then it gets more serious and emotional at the end. It’s the same behavior as a romantic lead but pushed a little farther to show its true face, and applied to a Platonic relationship.
Often in movies it seems like nobody ever has to work, and that’s just a storytelling cheat. Here I think it’s thematic. Taylor lives extravagantly on Instagram sponsorship money, her dopey man-bunned boyfriend Ezra (Wyatt Russell, WE ARE WHAT WE ARE, COLD IN JULY) is a pop artist with no sales to date, Ingrid imitates their lifestyle using an inheritance from her mom, whose death (and money?) must’ve been what made her this way. The most immediately likable character, Dan Pinto (O’Shea Jackson Jr., STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON) is an aspiring screenwriter living off the rent Ingrid pays. And it’s fitting that Russell and Jackson are the sons of famous people who played Snake Plissken and Desolation Williams, so they’re probly familiar with young people who live entitled rich kid slacker lifestyles (not that either of them should be accused of that, because they’re both really good here).
Anyway I can’t say I don’t envy them having a chance to pursue their passions without day jobs, even if they do pretty ridiculous things with that opportunity. To me the appeal of being rich wouldn’t be fancy cars and mansions and shit, it would be the time to relax.
There’s definitely alot of uncomfortable humor, and it gets dark. Actually it starts dark. I’m not sure I should’ve laughed as hard as I did at the opening scene of Ingrid interrupting a picturesque wedding to pepper spray the bride and call her the c-word before a groomsman can tackle her. There’s something cathartic about that kind of anarchic terribleness when it’s not real. We see Ingrid, not invited to the wedding, sitting in her car crying at the too-perfect photos of love and joy and corny hashtags. Without knowing those people beyond the surface you can see the appeal of pissing on their parade.
But the surprising thing about the movie is how humane it ends up being. Yes, Taylor is a superficial dummy who gets some random gas station worker to take multiple photos of her and then convinces him to lay in the dirt to get her preferred angle. And Ezra is a doofus with too high an opinion of his crappy hashtag-inspired art. And of course Ingrid is a lying, deluded psychopath. But they’re allowed a humanity beyond targets of a biting satire, so by the end I kind of liked all of them. Even Taylor’s brother Nicky (Billy Magnussen, BIRTH OF THE DRAGON, BRIDGE OF SPIES), who’s consistently jerky, is understandable because he’s correct to be angry at Ingrid and protective of his sister. Dan isn’t much smarter than them (he’s putting all kinds of energy into a table read for his passion project – a Batman spec script) but he’s much more reasonable and instantly charming, seeming like a saint for putting up with Ingrid’s shit.
INGRID GOES WEST makes it clear that Jackson will do much more than play his dad (although I’m still up for the STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON cast in N.W.A MEET FRANKENSTEIN, N.W.A AGAINST THE WORLD CRIME LEAGUE, etc.), and that Plaza can both carry a movie and find more complexity within her comic persona than she’s normally allowed. I think I’ll also keep an eye out for this director, Matt Spicer. It can’t be easy to make a movie that’s this dark but also kinda sweet, this funny but also nice to look at, this fun but also a devastating portrait of a generation raised to want to live in a simulacrum. Give this one a follow.
Do you get it though, “give this one a follow,” that’s social media terminology
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.