“I just prefer to keep certain parts of my life private.”
Comedies can be a lot of things all at once, and when done well, are able to mix the different styles seamlessly. They range from the outrageous, the scathing, the satirical, to the stupid and oh so many more. In the case of Ingrid Goes West, the aforementioned traits cascade over a toxic tragicomedy colored by the hues of acid rain, spreading its desperation like an airborne and noxious infection. I haven’t seen a more uncomfortable and cringeworthy film so far this year, nor has there been a better or more accurate depiction of overwhelming embarrassment. Ingrid Goes West is a movie that looks sweet but packs a memorably sour punch, and I had trouble cleansing this one’s disgustingly filtered aftertaste off of my palate afterwards. That’s a sign of success.
A quick glance at the emotional and confrontational close-up of Ingrid Thornburn (Aubrey Plaza) above and you’d think she’s simply crying. Look closer. Mucky mascara, both eyes cast down, a phone’s luminescence reflecting off both pupils. We hear the taps of her fingers on the screen, images of a marriage flooding through an Instagram page and Ingrid “liking” each one thoughtlessly. The scene cuts without giving more detail until Ingrid arrives at the wedding in real-time, pepper sprays the bride, and is tackled from behind. Turns out Ingrid became obsessed with the woman’s so-called picture-perfect life (a phrase that I think entirely defines this film). Not being invited to the ceremony – even though she’s a total stranger – felt like an intentional and knowing stab in the chest. It’s pretty clear that Ingrid has issues. Maybe going West will help her solve them. Or maybe not.
With the recent passing of her mother/only real friend, Ingrid’s been left a sizable inheritance that serves as her life fund. She pays her rent in cash to Dan Pinto (O’Shea Jackson Jr.), a hopeful screenwriter and Batman fanboy. He’s attracted to Ingrid’s strange personality. And after finding a new Insta-famous woman named Taylor (Elizabeth Olsen) to stalk and mold her life after, Ingrid’s money goes towards replicating the woman’s lifestyle gleaned through online pictures. She eats where Taylor ate. She buys the clutch that Taylor carried. She colors her hair blonde. Her desperation is as pitiful as it is oddly endearing, especially when it comes to the depraved lengths she will go to be befriended by Taylor (it involves a stake-out, a stolen puppy, and a return of the dog…that should tell you enough). Their eventual friendship turns into a take on Single White Female with less macabre actions and more faked niceties.
While enjoyably awkward and darkly funny, the film’s glue really is the two leading performances. Olsen plays Taylor perfectly. With that advertised and manufactured lifestyle, her gorgeous looks, those trendy and empty-headed captions and hashtags, Taylor is a real person who allows “likes” to direct her own life. She’s pleasant and phony at the same time. But as Ingrid, Aubrey Plaza achieves something rather remarkable. Plaza can play coy, crazy, sexy, broken. And she does all of this with an extremely difficult young woman who tests our patience and the limits of our sympathy while still managing to make her just likable enough. It’s reminiscent of and a more refined take on Mike White’s performance in the 2000 cult classic Chuck & Buck. Neither of these women are evil; neither of them are saints either.
I didn’t particularly care for the film’s ending because, instead of building Ingrid as a character with a full-bodied arc, she remains emotionally stuck and empty. That makes the movie a bit too one-dimensional and unfulfilled, yet I suspect that the effect is on purpose as well. You see, Ingrid is an attention addict, wanting to be seen and noticed and liked through social media because her real life is in shambles (a point reflected by her grimy and disgusting home, showing us her crisis while she continues to filter to the outside world). The only genuine person in the entire story seems to be Taylor’s boyfriend Ezra (Wyatt Russell), but even he falls victim to playing pretend and living a sham. Ingrid Goes West unfolds with good humor and bad behavior, all while providing a harsh critique of a new pandemic. Cell phone addiction – specifically, the drive to share forged pictures and to shovel in calorie-free content – is a real problem that’s stripping away authentic human interactions. If the film feels disingenuous, it’s because the people here are, and sadly they’re striking portraits of ourselves.
“It’s really funny what you can discover about somebody by going through their phone.”
Rating: 4 out of 5