Film Review: Ingrid Goes West

Social-media addiction makes for a fittingly dark and entertaining dramedy in 'Ingrid Goes West,' which carries clever shades of a contemporary 'Talented Mr. Ripley.' Aubrey Plaza is pitch-perfect as a suffering Instagram obsessive.
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When did we stop talking in genuine terms and start throwing around routine hyperboles like “This place is the BEST”? The timing of it probably aligns with the emergence of social media, which legitimized glorious misrepresentations of ourselves and places we have been to in a way that used to be reserved for ads and celebrity magazine profiles. Writer-director Matt Spicer’s darkly funny, sharp-witted feature debut, Ingrid Goes West, plugs into this contemporary reality of everyman and woman cleverly, and perhaps just a tad obviously.

But Ingrid Goes West works partly because of its thematic obviousness. Social media is fun and democratic. But really, what does it do to our perception of ourselves and of other people’s lives? We all wonder this on a daily basis. And here is a film that finally articulates some of those worries around loss of privacy, productivity and self-worth, caused by oversharing and overindulging in what others put out. For Ingrid, evocatively played by Aubrey Plaza with her signature shades of quirk and darkness, Instagram proves to be not just a sinister time suck, but also a major source of, as the kids call it, FOMO (fear of missing out). She robotically browses filtered photo after filtered photo in her feed where everything is perfect and everyone is awesome, and automatically double-taps to like pretty much each and every picture that packages a distorted version of reality on her small iPhone screen.

The opening of the film reveals her compulsiveness. When one of her school friends’ perfect wedding on a perfect day with the attendance of perfect people takes over Ingrid’s feed, she decides she can’t handle her own pitiful inferiority anymore. She crashes the wedding in real life, assaults the bride and is placed in a psychological institution where she receives a “digital detox.” But she falls back into her habits after her release and becomes obsessed with an influential lifestyle Instagrammer named Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen, who nails the friendly and shallow Los Angeles stereotype), a popular it-girl with a zillion followers and a seemingly dreamy West Coast lifestyle. Inheriting a wad of family cash just in time, Ingrid follows her heart (or rather, her Instagram feed) and moves to the sun-kissed shores of the West Coast to somehow befriend Taylor.

What follows is a modern-day The Talented Mr. Ripley, in which Ingrid manufactures situations to seem like Taylor’s instant best friend and soul mate. And her scheme of lies works to a degree: The two briefly become inseparable while Ingrid starts building her own social-media profile, faking the kind of glamorous yet coolly laid-back Los Angeles lifestyle she always envied in Taylor. Meanwhile, she falls for her kind, trusting and Batman-obsessed landlord Dan Pinto (O’Shea Jackson, Jr.) and continues to burn through her money fast. Of course, no Mr. Ripley reference would be complete without a Freddie Miles type, who emerges out of the blue to spoil all the fun and call the new friend out on her bullshit. In Ingrid Goes West, the Philip Seymour Hoffman-esque honors belong to Taylor’s hotheaded, sketchy brother Nicky (Billy Magnussen), who promptly discovers Ingrid’s unhealthy obsession with his sister. Meanwhile, Taylor, being the shallow type she is, gets enamored by a new best friend and predictably neglects Ingrid.

It’s all uncomfortable laughs in Ingrid Goes West, until the film takes a darker-than-expected turn that engages with severe depression and even suicide. Spicer stylishly and gradually proves he is unafraid to take on the frightening side of social media in a real, “worst case scenario” way. Cinematographer Bryce Fortner captures Ingrid’s happy days in bright and golden tones while painting her eventual collapse like a fever dream. In the end, Ingrid Goes West makes the indisputable case that the likes and shares we’re addicted to both take over our lives and, ironically, also serve as the drug we turn to when they cause us much pain and frustration. Spicer’s film entertainingly and thoughtfully takes issue with this evolving digital drug addiction, making one wonder whether everyone will hit a social-media rock bottom one day. Because we are clearly still high on it.

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