'Ingrid Goes West' review

Social media is such an omnipresent force in the lives of so many people these days that it's surprising we haven't seen more films centered around the topic. Sure, we got something like Unfriended a few years ago, a horror thriller told entirely through FaceTime. But that's not really the kind of film I'm talking about- that's an experiment in style and form more than anything. What I really have in mind is a film that digs into our modern social media addiction, plunging into the depths of our collective subconscious to find what has driven us so far into the culture that we know today. TV shows like Black Mirror have taken a stab at it, and movies have certainly used the prominence of cellphones and Facebook as a punching bag, but few films have confronted the idea head-on. It's a topic that is rich with opportunities for satire and drama, for genuine terror and truly breathtaking laughs. The possibilities are endless.

The biggest problem with Matt Spicer's Ingrid Goes West is that it tries to do so many of the things that I just listed in the span of one relatively short movie. But man, I'll applaud it for trying everything. While it has been mostly sold as a bubbly absurdist comedy, Ingrid Goes West is actually one of the darkest and most disturbing films of the year, set in a world where sunny locales and pleasant interactions mask an inexplicable sense of pain that can only be rectified by another "like" on Instagram. Like all good satirists, Spicer and co-screenwriter David Branson Smith have taken our obsession with social media to an extreme with Aubrey Plaza's Ingrid Thorburn, but there's a haunting truth at the heart of this film that will make it a bitter pill to swallow for many people. A thrillingly modern film that also happens to be about classic themes such as obsession and loss, Ingrid Goes West takes several ambitious ideas and mixes them together into an astonishing combination, resulting in a film that is far from lowkey but still incredibly effective.

Ingrid Thorburn (Plaza) is certifiably insane. There's no question about it- there's something not right with her. In the opening scene of the film, she crashes a wedding and pepper sprays the bride in a fit of jealous rage, mad that her life didn't turn out to be as #perfect as she hoped it would be. Of course, Ingrid ends up in psychological counseling after that, hitting the reset button on a life that has been hindered by social media. But even professional help can't keep Ingrid away from her phone, and once she's released from the institution, she finds herself engrossed in the world of Instagram. In particular, Ingrid grows obsessed with one woman- Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen), a gorgeous influencer living a luxurious life in the sunny paradise of Venice Beach.

Suddenly, Ingrid hatches a plan. Using the $60,000 that her late mother left to her, she travels to California to start a new life and become friends with Taylor. Thanks to some incredibly questionable methods (she kidnaps her dog!), Ingrid finagles her way into Taylor's inner circle, a group that includes her husband, Ezra (Wyatt Russell). Ingrid and Taylor strike up an instant friendship, going on adventures together and doing all the things that Ingrid has always dreamed of. But the arrival of Taylor's brother (Billy Magnussen) and an Instagram megastar (Pom Klementieff) brings out the worst in Ingrid, leading her down a road that reveals her darker instincts. As she begins a relationship with Dan Pinto, her Batman-crazy landlord (O'Shea Jackson, Jr.), and hopes to maintain her bond with Taylor, Ingrid will find herself in the middle of a saga that just keeps getting more and more insane by the minute.

Subtlety is not the name of the game in Ingrid Goes West. This isn't a movie that wants to take little jabs at its satirical subject- this film slices and dices, hacking away at today's social media culture until there's nothing left. Perhaps the greatest flaw of the film is that it's too obvious, preferring to spell out its themes and ideas rather than letting the audience figure it all out for themselves. But Ingrid Goes West is so incisive in its observations, so astoundingly accurate in its assessment of modern society that you can't help but be drawn into its quietly nightmarish world. Most importantly, it's clear that this is a film made by people who have lived in this world- they've seen what social media does to people, they've seen how we've become enraptured by the culture of fame and glamour. This isn't a movie where old people scream about the whippersnappers of today and all their newfangled technology- Spicer and Smith have made something that is current, touching a nerve that feels simultaneously hysterical and horrifying.

But there's something special about this film, and that's the fact that it's stunningly empathetic. Even if it is a scathing critique with a biting sense of wit, it maintains a deep knowledge of its characters that shines through in the strongest moments. It understands why someone like Ingrid, a woman who has been through genuine trauma and tragedy, would go to great lengths to enter a world of utter perfection, where pain isn't real and life is just all about the next "like." It understands why someone like Taylor would create a universe of sheer superficiality. It understands why humans have found the world of social media to be such a thrilling escape. Once again, this goes back to the fact that Spicer and Smith have a deep knowledge of the subject matter and the world that they're working in- it helps to create a film that feels recognizable and real in the scariest possible way.

However, even if the film is sympathetic to the struggles of its characters, it's no less critical of their actions. Spicer and Smith understand why they would do all of the terrible things that they do, but that doesn't make them any less ripe for mockery. The film is almost entirely devoid of purely good people (with the possible exception of Dan Pinto), which means that there are plenty of opportunities to take shots at each and every character. Even if you're certainly able to position Taylor as the victim here, the film is not afraid to go after her inherently shallow nature- she's a social climber living a lie, and she embodies the kind of "fake" friendliness that is all too prevalent in our culture. But Ingrid is undoubtedly the main target, and with good reason- her behavior is nothing shy of deranged, and she would probably be labeled as a sociopath if she wasn't profoundly psychologically damaged in other ways. From the opening frame, you can see the impact that social media has on Ingrid, the way that it seduces her, makes her jealous, makes her long for something better. And as the movie builds its way to a fever pitch of craziness, you can see the world slipping away from Ingrid's fingertips, turning her progressively more insane and depressed until there's nowhere left to go.

Spicer and Smith lay the groundwork, but it's impossible to imagine this film without the talents of Aubrey Plaza, an actress who delivers one of the finest performances of the year with ease. Plaza has always impressed me in bit parts, but with Ingrid Thorburn, she has carefully crafted an unforgettable creation, a character so terrifying, so charming, and so totally damaged that you're not sure how to respond. It doesn't matter if you cringe, cry, or laugh- Plaza is going to provoke some kind of a reaction. She dominates the film, but the supporting cast is outstanding, a murderer's row of talented rising stars. Elizabeth Olsen does great work as Taylor, and while I wish that she had more to do at times, her performance hits all the right notes. Billy Magnussen is a special kind of unhinged as Nicky, Taylor's deceptively smart brother, while Wyatt Russell continues to prove why he's one of the most likable actors working today. And after hearing months of chatter about how O'Shea Jackson, Jr. was a revelation in this film, I was glad to find such a wonderful performance from the actor. I think it's time that we start recognizing that he's better actor than his famous father.

Ingrid Goes West is a very fun ride, but there's something so sinister about the implications of this film's story. It's nearly Hitchcockian at times, and I love the way that Spicer's exteriors cover such a thoroughly disturbing tale of betrayal, stalking, and obsession. It's a film that gives you plenty of food for thought, and that ending will be rattling around in my brain for a long time. It's a bit too on the nose with some of its concepts, but it is a wonderful debut for a promising director, and Plaza's performance is absolutely magnificent. For everyone who has grown up in the thick of the social media age, Ingrid Goes West will make you howl with laughter and send your jaw to the floor. It perfectly captures the desperation and the catharsis that comes with a media world based on superficiality, and I was so glad to see a movie willing to go to the places that most films have left untouched. It's an eye-opening character study, and one of the best surprises of this dour late summer season.

THE FINAL GRADE:  A-                                             (8.3/10)

Images courtesy of NEON


  1. An absolutely brilliant review of this movie I love.


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