Product Promotion Network

Ingrid Goes West review – Aubrey Plaza dazzles in dark Instagram satire

‘It’s as much a film about the frequent stupidity of social media as it is about the difficulty of making friends’ … Elizabeth Olsen and Aubrey Plaza. Photograph: Neon

Movies about stalking typically hinge on a familiar set of escalating gestures that tend to include long waits in a lurking car, flicking through stolen mail and a lot of on-the-ground shadowing. Stalkers had it tough: they got rained on, barked at and risked criminal charges at every turn. But in 2017, following someone means something far different.

We follow strangers on a daily basis on various digital platforms, an insight into their likes, dislikes and physical whereabouts readily available for anyone to see.

The shift in how we prioritize privacy has yet to be exploited to its full extent on the big screen, perhaps linked to the idea that watching someone frantically tap at their smartphone is a tad less compelling than witnessing a more tangible threat. In Ingrid Goes West, director Matt Spicer’s frightening and funny debut feature, we follow the embodiment of social media obsession: the tragic titular character whose happiness remains reliant on how many strangers follow her back. When we meet Ingrid (Aubrey Plaza), she’s in a rage.

She hasn’t been invited to her friend’s wedding and is tearfully viewing it through the smug prism of Instagram[1]. But after she turns up at the reception, armed with pepper spray, we discover that the friendship is a mere delusion built from online scraps and Ingrid’s problems are far more extreme than being denied a wedding invite. She’s grieving the loss of her mother and this solitude has sent her into a dark spiral, one that takes her all the way to Los Angeles in the hopes of befriending her latest Insta-obsession.

Taylor (Elizabeth Olsen) is an photographer/online “influencer” whose carefully orchestrated life is the subject of envy for her sycophantic followers, from her much telegraphed love of Joan Didion to her immaculately designed home. Ingrid is besotted and finds a way of inserting herself into Taylor’s world, achieving a glossy social status that she’s always wanted, her fantasy life now a reality. But her grip can only last for so long as her lies start to unravel and the cruelty of her new LA lifestyle starts to seep through her fragile Insta-filters.

[embedded content]
Given the hideous vanity that Instagram encourages, Spicer’s setup offers copious entry points for vicious satire and his sharp Sundance award-winning script takes much pleasure in puncturing a vapid set of targets. High, or perhaps low, points include a terrible line of artworks from Taylor’s uncomfortably repackaged boyfriend (random images spray-painted with inane phrases like “squad goals”) and a poor stranger coerced into lying on the dusty ground in order to get just the right angle for an impromptu girls photo.

But this isn’t a simple takedown of social media-obsessed Californians – that would be too easy. Instead, Spicer looks past the emojis and pulls out the depression, inauthenticity and loneliness that’s behind the need for constant online affirmation. As well as avoiding an overly shallow causticity toward his subjects, Spicer also manages to broach Ingrid’s deteriorating mental health with refreshing delicacy.

Too many other comedies use a lead character’s psychosis as a source of laughter without revealing the humanity underneath (the clumsy ridicule surrounding Kristen Wiig’s mental illness in Welcome To Me is a recent example) but Ingrid is explored with more depth and nuance, her character never reduced to a mere punchline. Much of this is also down to Plaza, who’s too often limited by roles that exist solely to display her inarguable gift for resting bitch face. As Ingrid she’s revelatory, her desperation to transform into someone else bubbling up and under the surface throughout with wildly different results.

We’re aware of Plaza’s pitch-perfect comic timing but her skills as a dramatic actor have been largely kept under wraps and she’s on career-best form here, selling every note right through to the emotionally impactful finale. She’s matched by Olsen, who nails the right balance of condescension and magnetism, making it easy to see why the surface sheen of her life would be of interest to others. It’s not as immediately grabbing as Plaza’s turn but there’s expertly observed work here, her best since Martha Marcy May Marlene.

There’s also a hugely charming turn from Straight Outta Compton’s O’Shea Jackson Jr as Ingrid’s Batman-obsessed landlord/love interest (a vulnerable tiki bar date scene between the pair is surprisingly poignant).

There’s savage humor here but also piercing sadness.

It’s as much a film about the frequent stupidity of social media as it is about the difficulty of making friends, knowing how to fit in by showing just the right amount of your real self to just the right people, without having to rely on a filter.

  • Ingrid Goest West is released in US cinemas on 11 August and in the UK on 17 November

References

  1. ^ Instagram (www.theguardian.com)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Categories