As we surrender our lives and privacy to our smartphones, access to each other – access to anything – has never been this easy or infinite. Too much of anything is never a good thing, after all. Sooner or later, the gloss behind our perfectly filtered and choreographed Instagram photos are bound to crack as easily as an iPhone screen, revealing the imperfections and humanity beneath the surface. Until then, however, our relationship with social media remains a complicated one; as a tool, it is both a blessing and a curse, used to connect us with strangers from everywhere in the world, but also exploited as a means for our vanity and superficiality to take center stage. At last, along comes Ingrid Goes West, the debut feature from director and co-writer Matt Spicer, that approaches such a toxic obsession with as much empathy as it does with a sense of humor.
Enter Ingrid Thorburn (Aubrey Plaza), a socially inept 20-something with an unhealthy obsession to her iPhone, eyes glued to her Instagram feed and fingers scrolling down and double-tapping like it’s second nature. The film opens as she sits in the darkness of her car, her face illuminated by nothing more than the glow of her screen, as streams of mascara and tears run down her cheeks. Something has deeply troubled her – she clicks through photos from the wedding of her “best friend” Charlotte to which she wasn’t invited. She storms out of the car with pepper spray and phone in hand, crashing the wedding and going straight for Charlotte’s eyes. Turns out, they were never friends to begin with, as Ingrid mistook a friendly Instagram comment for a real friendship.
Needless to say, Ingrid is not okay. The opening sequence of scenes lay the foundation for understanding her issues, from grieving the loss of her mother, a stint at a mental hospital, to the unbearable loneliness that awaits her in her now-empty home. To escape reality and constantly keep herself distracted, Ingrid and her phone are simply inseparable, serving as her only means of connecting with a world that refuses to acknowledge her as a real person with real issues and real feelings.
One night, she sits in the tub, flipping through a magazine when she discovers a profile on an Instagram “influencer” named Taylor (Elizabeth Olsen). Unlike Ingrid, Taylor is perfect. She lives by the beach in Venice, California with her artist husband Ezra (Wyatt Russell) and dog Rothko, basically embodying the picture perfect persona and life that Ingrid lacks in every way. This inspires Ingrid to make the leap and move to Los Angeles herself, cashing out her inheritance to start anew.
As she touches down in sunny California, she takes on a brand new persona, copying every little thing Taylor posts about on her Instagram profile, from the food she eats, the books she reads, to where she gets her hair done and shops. Soon enough, she meets Taylor herself and befriends her, becoming attached at the hip and Instagram-worthy BFFs. As their friendship unfolds, Ingrid’s voyeuristic nature is pushed to its limits and her obsessive tendencies spiral out of control, and to seriously hilarious results.
It’s Aubrey Plaza’s time to shine, and it simply doesn’t get much better than her delightfully manic turn as the titular anti-hero. The role begs for a commitment that only Plaza herself can perfectly capture, toeing the line between crazy and straight up sad. It’s difficult to like Ingrid, especially considering the ridiculous lengths to which she’ll go to get what she wants, but as Plaza expertly portrays, there’s plenty of depth to Ingrid that requires empathy, both from the audience and the film’s cast of characters.
It’s when Taylor’s little brother, an obnoxious meathead named Nicky (Billy Magnussen), enters the picture and pierces through her perfect friendship that Ingrid’s cracks are forced to finally show. Nicky sees right through her and her strange obsession with his sister, and he won’t let her off easy. Ingrid Goes West is not a forgiving film, and it’s certainly for the better, especially when its exactly that unforgiving nature that allows for terrific character development at all fronts.
As Taylor, Elizabeth Olsen lets loose and charmingly portrays what simply could’ve been a vapid personality. As usual, she’s a delight to watch, especially alongside Plaza. On the surface, Wyatt Russell’s Ezra is just another typically bearded and sensitive L.A. artiste, but it’s also his refusal to sell out and commitment to his craft that otherwise round him out and make him relatable. As Nicky, Billy Magnussen is undeniably the most energetic of the group, masterfully portraying that loud-mouthed, roided out douchebag we all know and despise. And yet, it’s also Nicky’s devotion to his sister that serves as his main motivation.
Pom Klementieff joins the gang as an Instagram model that Taylor herself looks up to, and though she’s not given as much to chew on as the others, her Harley Chung is yet another pleasant surprise. However, perhaps the biggest standout is O’Shea Jackson Jr.’s Dan Pinto, Ingrid’s love interest and landlord, who leaves a real mark with his charm and effortlessness. Out of everyone, it’s Dan who carries himself with the most authenticity, especially with his shameless affinity for Batman and sincere affection for Ingrid. Despite her insanity, he’s the only one who truly understands her and stands by her.
Overall, Spicer has gathered a fantastic ensemble of actors, their chemistry leaping off the screen and making for a hugely enjoyable watch. Ultimately, it’s truly due to his and David Branson Smith’s clever script that Ingrid Goes West works as well as it does. For every Instagram persona, there’s always much more than meets the eye, and Ingrid proves exactly that. As a dark comedy that’ll make you laugh as much as it’ll make you cringe, Ingrid Goes West satirizes our ridiculous obsession with social media without being condescending, acknowledging that at the end of the day, there’s a little bit of Ingrid in all of us. And maybe that’s just fine.