Social media is destroying our lives – but what if it’s not? What if a digital imitation of life is all we can generate? That’s the main idea that courses through Ingrid Goes West, a pitch-black comedy that dances around its central theme without ever facing it head on. But oh, the demented, delicious mischief it kicks up.
The antiheroine of the title is played by the one-and-only Aubrey Plaza, who’s allowed to go completely off the chain here. Her Ingrid Thorburn never stops tapping “Like” on Instagram, but no one likes her. (#loser) When she’s not invited to the wedding of a girl she barely knows, Ingrid crashes the ceremony and pepper-sprays the bride. (#psycho) Is this for real? (#nofilter)
That scene is the first chance director Matt Spicer gives us to bite into this bonbon spiked with arsenic, wit and malice. Ingrid is unhinged to the point of jail time or at least a stint in a loony bin. The newbie director, who co-wrote the Sundance award-winning script with David Branson Smith, starts by getting this deranged, delusional young woman out of a nowhere town in Pennsylvania and into ground-zero for media-obsessed nutjobs: Los Angeles.
With $60,000 left by the mother she nursed through a losing battle with cancer (yes, you should sympathize with the character a little), Ingrid journeys to La La Land to start a healthy, happy new life. I’m kidding. She’s in LA to stalk Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen), a so-called social media “influencer” – which essentially means she gets paid to shill products on her Instagram feed. Our quirky new Angeleno charms Taylor by buying a painting from Ezra (Wyatt Russell), the woman’s no-talent husband, and by praising every inane comment her new friend posts. Ingrid also showcases her “normality” by bribing her Batman-fanatic landlord Dan (the sharply appealing O’Shea Jackson Jr.) to be her date. Everything is peachy until Taylor’s attention-starved, asshole coke-fiend brother, Nicky (Billy Magnussen), comes along. Suddenly, Ingrid’s journey to be liked hits a dead end.
Spicer throws a lot of balls in the air, but the film never enters the murderous sphere of something like Single White Female. Still, Plaza manages to make us feel Ingrid’s pain. And Olsen, in the film’s major eye-opener of a performance, is toxic perfection; she has a way of slowly revealing the pathology that fuels Taylor’s desire to show her best fake face to her world of willingly-duped followers. Who’s sicker? You be the judge. Ingrid Goes West puts us on a digital platform to hell, showing us a nightmare world of Insta-obsessives that’s all too recognizable as our own.