We all use social media these days, but if you think you’re hooked on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and all those sorts of apps, just wait until you meet Ingrid (Aubrey Plaza). This is one person whose fixation on social media goes well into the unhealthy territory and her aggravation over seeing Instagram pictures of her “best friends” wedding that she wasn’t invited leads her to attack said “best friend” at that wedding. After that, she’s been spending some extended time at a mental institution, hoping to get her life in order…until she finds the next target of her obsession, a Los Angeles social media icon by the name of Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen).
In no time at all, Ingrid packs her bags full of money and heads off to Los Angeles (hence the title declaring the titular character is heading westward) in order to become Sloane’s new best friend. Though Ingrid has never really met someone like Sloane before, she’s very much an expert in the world of manufacturing relationships and knows just how to get Sloane to be her new best bud for life and is similarly adept at getting her Batman-obsessed landlord Dan Pinto (O’Shea Jackson Jr) to dutifully help her out. The people she’s meeting for the first time in L.A. may think Ingrid is just a cool new friend but there’s a creepy controlling nature to Ingrid that assures that any sense of tranquility in these newfound relationships can’t last for very long.
Many modern-day movies seemed to have struggled in trying to figure out how to address the omnipresence of technology in younger people’s lives without coming off as either trying too hard to be hip or overtly condescending. Just remembering how Wish Upon had that one teenage girl who was fixated on a lame Clash of Clans/Pokemon Go! knock-off reminds me of how utterly awful certain attempts at being tech-savvy in modern-day cinema can be. Luckily, Ingrid Goes West proves to actually be one of the better examples of tackling this topic primarily because it’s less interested in appearing “cool” or finger-wag the high presence of iPhones and is instead curious on how certain types of human beings hinging on obsession that have always existed would function in age of social media omnipresence.
If Ingrid Goes West was made just two decades ago, Ingrid would have had the same personality, she just would have had, like, a journal to keep disturbingly detailed notes on people she wants to be friends with or she’d spy on them via a pair of binoculars. Now, all a person like Ingrid needs to do to even just figure out where a person like Taylor Sloane is at an exact moment is check up on her Instagram page. Social media isn’t itself an inherently bad thing in Ingrid Goes West, rather, it’s fascinatingly looked at as a potential impetus for individuals who already engaging in creepy stalker behavior to further indulge said behavior by way of the modern-day tendency to catalogue one’s entire life on social media.
For a film that entertainingly engages in more over-the-top moments, I was thoroughly impressed with how this core idea of the script is handled in a successfully subtle manner. All of those larger ideas about the misuse of modern-day technology give one plenty to think about upon leaving the theater but they never call attention to themselves, instead serving as byproducts of the ridiculously and unpredictably absorbing journey undertaken by the lead character of Ingrid Thorburn, a quasi-modern day Travis Bickle like character in that they’re both obliviously self-absorbed individuals dealing with obvious mental health problems and are thoroughly convinced the entire world revolves around them.
Whereas Bickle’s self-centered tendencies saw him carrying had larger aspirations of being a savior for a broken world, Ingrid just wants to contort her identity so that she can be the perfect match for any person she wants to be best friends with. The way the screenplay by Matt Spicer and David Branson Smith frequently depicts Ingrid subtly metamorphizes herself to be a perfect match for whoever she wants to interact with in order to obtain something for herself has a subdued errieness to it, especially since those people she’s interacting with are predominately completely unknowing of just how dangerous Ingrid can be.
It’s a fascinatingly written lead character that Aubrey Plaza’s truly gusto performance brings to life with soaring success. After working so well at bringing layers to an antagonistic creation on Legion earlier this year, Plaza thrives in portraying a more naturalistic character whose obsessive tendencies in trying to win over Sloane as her new best friend simultaneously depict a sense of wisdom in that Ingrid knows just what gestures and things to say to win Sloane over but there’s also a hollowness to these traits, there’s an almost undetectable twinge of inorganicness to these qualities because, well, they’re just not who Ingrid is, she can’t hide that no matter how much research she does on her prospective new best friends on social media. There’s lots to unpack in this character and Aubrey Plaza’s performance is a big reason why.
The supporting cast members turn in some really noteworthy performances too, Elizabeth Olsen is terrific at playing Sloane, a person obsessed with coming off as a perfect while having her own unsavory tendencies in her personality and Sloane’s brother played by Billy Magnussen is an incredibly accurate and appropriately scathing pastiche of Logan Paul and other dude-bro social media personalities. Biggest scene-stealer of the bunch has to be O’Shea Jackson Jr., he’s totally irresistible as Ingrid’s landlord and potential love interest and gets some of the best lines of the whole movie (his praise of Val Kilmer as Batman on a romantic date is a particular comedic stand-out). A cast that’s firing on all cylinders, particularly in Aubrey Plaza’s lead performance, a script that’s got plenty of darkly hilarious moments and a thoughtful take on technology (though the screenplay does feel like it’s dawdling a bit in the third act) plus some promising direction from Matt Spicer in his feature film directorial debut, it all adds up to a thoroughly entertaining motion picture like Ingrid Goes West that had my eyes glued to the screen just like Ingrid’s eyes are always glued to her iPhone screen.