So I creeped your profile on Instagram. I fully expected to see the kind of carefully filtered and posed pics favoured by the characters in Ingrid Goes West (and by most of the people on Instagram, myself included). Or maybe worse, based on your profession. But your feed was refreshingly unpolished, a few candid pics of your family and not much more. Perhaps I was hoping to find out a bit about who you are, but then I remembered that on social media, no one is who they say they are. That’s kind of the point.
Ingrid Goes West is a dark comedy in the vein of other recent ’women on the verge’ films likeBachelorette and Young Adult, but it shares even more celluloid DNA with that ode to male friendship and insanity, Fight Club.
This isn’t just the tragicomic portrait of a mentally unstable young woman insinuating herself into the life of someone she wishes she could be. It’s a deep dive into how social media has commodified our relationships, and warped our self-perception. If Fight Club was an exploration of Gen Xers grappling with the effects of being raised in a culture of consumption that defined our faulty value systems, Ingrid Goes West is its natural, Millennial progression.
Oh, but it’s a pretty mess! The film opens on a series of painfully impeccable Instagram posts of a young woman sharing her perfect life while narrating her pics with words like, “prayerhands emoji” and “hashtag no filter”. Meanwhile, the titular Ingrid, fresh out of a stay in the local mental healthcare facility, scrolls endlessly through her phone, purposely avoiding the real world. She balances a Hotpocket on a paper towel while obsessing over professionally staged photos of someone’s brunch. Her surroundings tell her story – the empty hospital bed in the living room, her bedroom adorned with posters of Romeo and Juliet-era DiCaprio. When she comes across a magazine article featuring Taylor, with the headline, “Meet Your New Girl Crush”, Ingrid cashes in her inheritance money and heads to sunny L.A. to be her new BFF.
Taylor is almost comically of the moment; a master of the 21st century gig-economy, she juggles duties as a photographer, influencer and brand ambassador. Every outfit, meal, and item in her life has been carefully considered to inspire envy. Her life isn’t lived, it’s curated. You filled her home with high-end objets d’art, and flea market tchotchkes arranged like shabby chic design mag porn. Even her husband, Ezra, is a charmingly rumpled, bearded hipster artist who eschews social media in favour of his ancient flip phone. Ingrid finds a room to rent nearby from a sweet-faced, struggling screenwriter named Dan, and proceeds to pattern her life on Taylor’s, right down to visiting her favourite vegan restaurant, and using the same hairstylist. That Ingrid succeeds in befriending Taylor simply by mirroring her behaviour is just one of the clever ways this film shows us how disingenuous – and addictive – our online personas can be.
These characters drift in and out of your achingly must-have, sun-dappled Venice Beach tableaux, but of course, all is not as So-Cal utopian as it seems. Taylor is a shallow opportunist, Ezra is a miserable alcoholic, and Ingrid is spiralling out of control, engaging in increasingly desperate behaviour to maintain her nebulous friendship with Taylor. The picture-perfect cast sell these people to their absolute, narcissistic nadirs. Elizabeth Olsen is the hypnotically vacuous Taylor, Wyatt Russell is the tragically hip Ezra, and O’Shea Jackson as the adorable, Batman-obsessed stoner, Dan.
But this is Aubrey Plaza’s movie. Her Ingrid is simultaneously funny and sad, deranged and lonely yet never pitiable. She’s self-absorbed, reckless, and unhinged, but unlike Taylor, she’s authentic. Plaza nearly has the movie stolen away from her by Billy Magnussen who plays Taylor’s druggie, shit-disturber brother, Nicky. Their interplay is unpredictable and electric. They, and indeed the rest of the cast, never play their characters for laughs. They take themselves completely seriously when it might have been much easier – and far less interesting – to play them as winking at the audience.
This is one of those under-the radar films that doesn’t fit into a neatly marketable box, so it didn’t get much traction when it was released (in the un-cool dump month of August), and that’s a shame. It’s a comedy masquerading as a psychological thriller, an allegory for our increasing dependence on empty social media interactions cleverly disguised as a chick flick. Ingrid Goes West feels like it could very easily sneak its way into cult classic territory and it would fit right in. Or at least fake it long enough to garner serious attention.