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Ingrid Goes West (BFI London Film Festival)

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Social media fanatic Ingrid (Aubrey Plaza) finds it difficult to connect to the human race through any means other than her mobile phone screen. When she comes across “Instagram star” Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen) in a magazine article she becomes obsessed with her and her Californian lifestyle. Using some recently inherited cash from her mother’s passing, Ingrid sets off to find and emulate Taylor, and ingratiate herself into her orbit. Needless to say, Ingrid soon learns that, in this social media age, Taylor’s life is all surface sheen, and it doesn’t take much scratching to find the ugliness behind the beauty.

Social media saturation leads to curated identities in Matt Spicer’s debut black comedy Ingrid Goes West, where the search for global validation through the internet creates a vortex of deceit. As the internet becomes more ubiquitous, so does our desire to like and be liked in turn, but where in the past it would be for the content of our character that we endear ourselves to one another, in this new generation of social interaction it is the content of our Twitter feeds which becomes the portrait for our inauthentic selves.

Ingrid Goes West is a darkly funny cautionary tale about the dangers of social media, but thankfully Spicer and co-screenwriter David Branson Smith don’t get overly preachy. It is on the whole a very well observed critique of the way the internet has enriched our lives but also how it can pervert our relationships. The strongest manifestation of this is in the exploration of how assumed identities can help us deal with the world, but if unchecked can cause more harm than good. Ingrid’s landlord and love interest Dan Pinto (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) is obsessed with Batman, but recounts how his identification with the Dark Knight helped him through hardships as a child.

Yet, Ingrid’s assuming of a curated identity allows her to silence her self-doubt to the point of a complete fracture with reality, and her own obsession with Taylor blinds her to her girl-crush’s own struggle with the way the world perceives her. The only time the film threatens to move too far into morality territory is toward the end, when an action taken by Ingrid in desperation almost gilds the lily in regards to the thematic lessons Spicer and company wish to impart, but thankfully they bring it back from the brink in the film’s final moments.

The performances all around are terrific, with Plaza capturing the internal pain and devil-may-care attitude of Ingrid, adding her to the actor’s long list of wryly comic but damaged individuals. Elizabeth Olsen is spot on as the overly manicured and stage-managed Taylor, imbuing the character with many hidden depths, even if they go unsaid, while O’Shea Jackson Jnr is a comedic revelation as Dan.

Ingrid Goes West is a film that is wryly observational about society’s fixation with social media but is never judgmental. None of the characters are drawn as purely heroic or villainous; they are all damaged or struggling in their own unique ways. That makes the whole experience very much a human one, which is essential. It is the kind of film that should be shown to high school kids on a rainy day, as both a cautionary tale and maybe as a panacea to those who feel they are alone in the world and cannot connect to others in real life.

Click here for nationwide movie times for Ingrid Goes West

 
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Legion Chapter 1

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Another day, another Marvel series, or so it seems. This one is actually coming to us courtesy of Fox, screen rights holders for all things mutant, and showrunner Noah Hawley, who gave us the exemplary TV iteration of Fargo. It’s his involvement that makes us prick up our ears, promising something a little different from the usual sturm und drang superhero angst and action.

Meet David Haller (Dan Stevens of The Guest and the upcoming Beauty and the Beast), long time mental illness sufferer and recent suicide attempt, currently confined to the Clockwork Psychiatric Hospital. He has a best friend, the substance-abusing, sardonic Lenny (Aubrey Plaza, great) but he doesn’t have a girlfriend – that is until a new inmate, the mysterious Syd (Rachel Keller) comes along, and David falls hard. Syd doesn’t like to be touched, and David is fine with that rule, up until Syd gets discharged and…

…well, that would be telling, but something catastrophic happens, resulting in the bulk of the episode being narrated by David under interrogation by a mysterious agent (Hamish Linklater) while nervous SWAT-types stand guard, guns at the ready. As it turns out, David’s visions and delusions of power may not just be symptoms of a troubled mind – or at least, not only that, and there are serious people who would much rather he not figure that out.

The subjectivity of experience seems to be the central thesis of Legion. Syd (whose last name is the rather-on-the-nose Barrett) states it plainly at one point: “What if your problems aren’t all in your head? What if they’re not even problems?” Or, more plainly, what if what makes you special is the same thing that makes you broken – a provocative, potentially dangerous area of exploration that is nonetheless tantalising to anyone who toils in the arts.

We spend a lot of time right in David’s head with him, and that invites the viewer to try and parse what is real and what isn’t, a mode heightened by the episode’s use of a fractured timeline and repeating frightening visions and (presumably) real displays of superhuman power. For a while there the jury is even out on whether Syd is a figment of David’s imagination (the smart money is on No, unless this show is playing a very long and interesting game). There’s more than a touch of Terry Gilliam going on here, with David’s eventual embracing of what could be, by the show’s own lights, insanity, reminiscent of Brazil, and the psychiatric hospital echoing 12 Monkeys. Indeed, that second point of reference is a bit of a problem; the show’s aesthetic edges right up to the precipice of “unbearably precious”, frequently stunningly imaginative in its compositions and colours, but flirting with “twee” a little too often. That this is part of Legion‘s depiction of mental illness is sure to grate on some – a well delivered cliche is still a cliche, and culturally we’re right in the middle of renegotiating how we perceive mental issues – it’d be nice if Legion was the first of the new guard in that respect, not the last of the old.

Thankfully we have some sterling performances to carry us through, chiefly Dan Stevens as Haller, who manages to combine charm, humour, self doubt, fear, keen intelligence and a certain level of outright intimidating power in one package. It’s really a bravura performance – even when the episode is over-egging the pudding with its choices, Stevens is there to anchor it.

Legion falters when it cleaves too closely to the expectations of the superhero/comic book genre. A big rescue/action setpiece closes out the episode, and it’s easily the weakest few minutes so far; we’ve seen this sort of TV-budget action a thousand times before and besides, we know how this is going to end up – the stakes are incredibly low. Our first hour and change in the company of David Haller sees him and us hooked up with a mysterious mentor figure (Jean Smart) and her team of armed and superpowered accomplices – easily the most obvious place for us to land, and a bit of a shame considering what has gone before. Legion isn’t perfect, but it shows a hell of a lot of promise. Hopefully the more workaday genre elements will fall away as we move forward, and we’re left with something really new and unique. We shall see.