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.