Matt Spicer’s “Ingrid Goes West” is my kind of movie. In this modern “Taxi Driver”/pitch black
comedy, nobody grows, nobody learns, nobody is badly hurt and nobody is really all that good to begin with. Ingrid is a bold, original film that uses its cast so well, I turned off my inner critic about 20 minutes in so I could just go along for the ride. If my review suffers because of it, oh well, because “Ingrid Goes West” was worth every minute.
If this movie doesn’t stick out by itself, it will certainly be remembered as the moment Aubrey Plaza became a great actress. Her performance on “Parks and Recreation” is, of course, one of the show’s many highlights. But it was a role created for her, based on her unique style of comedy. Here, we finally get to see her out of her comfort zone, in a movie that shuns the apathy and sarcasm her early career was based on. Her work here is incredibly genuine; Plaza isn’t mocking Ingrid, she finds genuine pathos in her character. She is funny, scary and tragic at the same time.
Plaza plays the titular Ingrid, who we first see attacking a bride with mace. After a brief
psychiatric hospitalization, we learn that Ingrid obsesses over people on Instagram. Now that the bride she attacked has filed a restraining order, she needs a new obsession. She finds one in Taylor (Elizabeth Olsen), a “social media influencer,” possibly the saddest and strangest adaptation of con artist to exist. Because following is too easy, Ingrid decides to cash the $60,000 left to her by her mother, move to LA and insert herself into the deceptively bright world of galleries, parties, shopping and avocado toast.
The movie works so well because we are all Ingrid. We are nervous that the life that we are pretending to have online isn’t good enough. One of the best scenes in the movie comes early in Ingrid’s obsession, when she is trying to decide her first comment on Taylor’s Instagram. She goes through several drafts, cursing herself after each one. It’s funny because it’s pathetic, but on another level it’s endearing because this ridiculous nervous drafting has become a part of 21st century interaction. But then on yet another level, it is creepy because we know what Ingrid is capable of. This mixture of comedy from derision, comedy from compassion and pure horror is what makes up most of the film.
Most of the main cast never really relaxes. Ingrid is in a perpetual state of manipulation and panic that she will be rejected and discovered as a stalker. Taylor is planning on buying a house in Joshua Tree and setting up a thrift store (“It’ll be like my Instagram but in real life!”). Her brother (Billy Magnussen) is an addict in denial, keen on causing mayhem; he is the embodiment of an entitled frat boy who can’t stand to be alone with himself. It makes sense, though, because the only two people in the movie who aren’t perpetually fighting for attention and purpose are Taylor’s alcoholic, whipped husband (Wyatt Russell) and Ingrid’s Batman-obsessed, constantly vaping landlord (O’Shea Jackson Jr, who steals every scene he’s in). To call these men happy wouldn’t be quite right, but they exist outside of the bizarre, zombie social media culture and the movie isolates them for it.
“Ingrid Goes West” is brave enough to show that the world it creates is the new normal, and those who cling to the past, like Taylor’s husband, are outsiders to be ignored and berated. Social media technology and the people who are enveloped in it has been criticized ever since it arrived, most notably in works like “The Social Network” and “Black Mirror.” At this point, it would be easy to make a movie that seems like an old man shaking his fist at the darn kids on his yard. But Ingrid isn’t as ineffectual as that; this is an exciting and very watchable movie that identifies strongly with its characters and invites us to do the same. We are all, at different times, Ingrid and Taylor; most of us are just better at realizing when it goes too far.