Published on August 18th, 2017 | by Dan Nicholls0
Ingrid Goes West
Aubrey Plaza stars in Ingrid Goes West, which follows in the footsteps of movies like Swimfan and Scorsese’s The King of Comedy, injecting modern sensibilities.
Social media has given us the ability to get up close and personal with the people we are attracted to in one form or another. We can bring these individuals home; they can keep us company no matter where we go. The relationships we form in our minds with the people that we connect with online are rarely realistic or accurate. But for some folks interest can give way to infatuation, and lines get crossed that should’ve been confined to a screen. The eponymous protagonist of Ingrid Goes West is a Single White Female for the smartphone age, a Swimfan hooked on online influencers. And she’s pretty unforgettable.
Ingrid Thorburn (Aubrey Plaza) lives a lonely, anti-social life and feels most at home with a phone in her hand – a constant companion teasing her with the lives of people she wishes she could be. A particularly intense manic episode following her mother’s death lands Ingrid on the mend and searching for a new individual to enrapture her imagination. She lands on the Instagram profile of Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen) and a new obsession takes root in her mind. She suddenly becomes fanatical about following every step of Taylor’s (seemingly perfect) digital life.
An inheritance cheque for $60,000 opens the door financially for Ingrid to move to California and remodel her lifestyle around everything Taylor posts on Instagram. After deviously creating an opportunity to meet her idol, Ingrid plunges headfirst into the deep end of her most obsessive compulsions. Before long it becomes difficult to tell if Ingrid wants to be like Taylor or if she wants to be Taylor.
A life manufactured out of nothing can’t hold a foundation for long and the more Ingrid advances on Taylor’s life the more the cracks begin to show. Ingrid manages to bring her neighbor and landlord, Dan (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) into her destructive path while Taylor’s husband (Wyatt Russell) and brother (Billy Magnussen) begin to slowly question Ingrid’s façade.
The film’s ending owes thanks to The King of Comedy but also to Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). All films that manage to make prescient comments on present day relationship between celebrity, media, and the thirsty ones who want to consume both whole.
Ingrid could very well be a descendant of Rupert Pupkin, the obsessive protagonist of Martin Scorsese’s The King of Comedy. Both characters have their moments of charm and likeability but desperation wafts off them in thick, drafty waves. Ingrid Goes West wobbles at the beginning while trying to find its balance and hits a solid stride in its middle section. While Ingrid isn’t quite as bold of a statement as Scorsese’s aforementioned masterpiece it’s still a fascinating profile of a stalker.
Aubrey Plaza shows a range that she has previously only given glimpses of. It’s her finest, most vulnerable performance to date and the actress brings Ingrid to life with vivid intimacy. It’s the type of role that ensures greater things are to come from Plaza after previous feature vehicles The To-Do List and Life After Beth were non-starters. To a certain group of people the actress will forever be associated first and foremost with April Ludgate, Plaza’s indelible character on TV’s Parks and Recreation. But Ingrid is going to stick around as a career high mark for some time.
Elizabeth Olsen and O’Shea Jackson Jr. (son of Ice Cube and star of Straight Outta Compton) deliver standout work even if their characters don’t quite get to a full three dimensions. The screenplay by David Branson Smith and Matt Spicer follows the template beat by beat but is still keen enough to create unique flavors for the characters that keep the whole thing continuously absorbing. As a first-time director, Spicer maintains a truthful throughline for Ingrid that proves he’s got an eye for strong characterization. There are also a number of striking visuals and feats of juggling tone that suggest more good things to come for the filmmaker.
Despite the creepy vibes inherent with its subject matter, Ingrid Goes West still manages to be oftentimes funny and tragic. Its themes have been explored before and will continue to be explored so long as celebrity culture and media exist. It’s a time capsule of what unhealthy fixation looks like in 2017. But even today there still remains much deeper conversation to be had surrounding mental illness, which is alluded to here but not fully explored.
Aubrey Plaza’s sublime lead performance is enough for the price of admission on its own, it’s an added delight that her co-stars and collaborators step up their game to bring us a memorable original character without judgment. For those of us who live most waking moments with a phone in one hand, Ingrid Goes West is essential viewing. It’s still highly recommended even for the non-tech savvy out there as a cautionary tale about losing yourself in an alternate digital reality.