Ingrid Goes West is a film about addiction. It’s also a film about the way different individuals present themselves, in vastly different forms. It’s a film about obsession, about social media, about mental illness, about craving intimacy, about performative identity, and about what constitutes being #blessed. But, most of all, it’s about Ingrid Thorburn, a girl looking for a friend.
Kicking off with a scene in which Ingrid (Aubrey Plaza) maces another young woman at her wedding and calls her a cunt for not inviting her, Ingrid Goes West immediately establishes its protagonist as “unlikable” and “crazy”—the dreaded, reductive phrases that many a senior citizen used outside of my screening. Ingrid has a hard time forming attachments and seeking intimacy. She’s mentally ill, spends some time under mental care watch after her mother’s death, and is left with over $60,000.
Thus, she turns to Instagram, where she finds Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen), an influencer who lives a seemingly wonderful life and promises to be a beacon of hope and friendship for the lonely Ingrid. After a simple comment, she moves to Los Angeles, and everything shifts when she becomes attached to the woman of her social media dreams.
Upon reading this, one might assume the film is hypercritical of social media and of those who use it. That’d be dead wrong. Limiting the amazing script by director Matt Spicer and co-writer David Branson Smith to that is missing out on how smartly the duo explore obsession through the tool of social media. It never intends to depict anyone as malicious, even though their decisions might come across as such, and is surprisingly sympathetic to each character without ever succumbing to sap.
Existing in a similar vein as Young Adult, the film is at its core a character study of Ingrid, a character who one roots for in part, regardless of a lack of personal change. Plaza’s compelling performance makes her all the more easy to digest and relate to, regardless of Spicer and Brandon’s cringe-inducing script packing in as many uncomfortable moments as possible. But Ingrid Goes West extends its exploration of how individuals interact with each other and social media to the entire cast. Taylor, as played by Olsen—who arguably has one of the toughest supporting roles of the year and nails every beat—is no less authentic than Ingrid.
If there is a thesis, it’s that anything taken to an extreme can be bad, and that no one is entirely authentic, but that doesn’t mean the facade is malicious. Ingrid changes herself entirely in an attempt to find a friend while Taylor sacrifices her individuality and borrows the interests of others for the sake of sponsorships, steady cash, and relationships that are meaningful to her, regardless of how others view them. Others, with different levels of social media use, are not exempt from criticism.
Dan Pinto (O’Shea Jackson) uses social media sparingly (and arguably has the most stable connection to it), but puts on a tough face and is happy to perform in person to hide his true self at times. Taylor’s husband, Ezra O’Keefe (Wyatt Russell), boldly claims to be off of social media, but his high-horse stance effectively stalls any kind of artistic career he dreams of having. And then there’s Taylor’s brother, Nicky (Billy Magnussen), who is also off the grid, but utilizes social media for the sake of manipulation and critiques others for their use while indulging in a number of vices, primarily cocaine.
Each individual performance by these men varies greatly, though none is underwritten, as limited as they are when compared Plaza. Jackson excels in charm while dishing out Batman jokes, Russell exudes the appropriately chill vibe of a man semi-comfortable in his stasis, and Magnussen never lets up as the coke-fueled man he’s playing. Whether irritating or captivating, each has their place in Ingrid’s life, however temporary or seemingly permanent that role may be. And, just like Ingrid, no one changes.
Ingrid Goes West is as bleak as it is humorous. Some might argue that the notion of each of these characters being trapped in the identity they’ve self-created is dark and unrealistic because people can change. And, sure. It’s possible. But for Ingrid and Taylor, fame via social media becomes a trap. For both, it’s creating a false sense of comfort, but it is not the villain here. Neither is the individual who changed herself entirely just to make a friend, as unsettling as many of her decisions were. If Ingrid Goes West has a villain, it’s becoming complicit in your own fantasy of what life could and should be like, without wanting to take a risk to change that.
What makes Ingrid such a compelling protagonist, warts and all, is that she’s willing to go through anything and everything to fill the hole inside of her. She’ll read Joan Didion, she’ll dye her hair, she’ll steal a dog, she’ll buy a house, she’ll do cocaine, she’ll face the pain of seeing her former friend and another girl dress up as Clueless’ Cher and Dionne. She’ll change anything and everything about herself simply to be loved.
Today, we blame social media for instilling a certain sense of narcissism in us. Hearing characters read their emoji and hashtags aloud aloud on screen might misguide one into thinking it’s the worst. But the truth is, we’d blame something else if it didn’t exist. And we’d blame anything that we, as humans, take advantage of and become addicted to instead of utilizing it with moderation.
That’s what makes Ingrid Goes West so excellent: as much as it is a film of the moment, it’s just as much a timeless work of art because it speaks to the needy mess inside us all. We’re not all Ingrid, or Taylor, or Dan, or Ezra, or Nicky, but it’s easy to find a little of oneself in each of them. We’re all as flawed as the next guy. And if you think you’re not, or you’re better than that, or you can hide that, with or without social media, there’s a harsh awakening at the end of the road.
Well, maybe not for Ingrid though. 😉
Directed by Matt Spicer; written by Matt Spicer & David Branson Smith; starring Aubrey Plaza, Elizabeth Olsen, O’Shea Jackson Jr, Wyatt Russell & Billy Magnussen; 97 minutes.
Ingrid Goes West is currently undergoing a limited theatrical release. In Miami, it opens at O Cinema Wynwood, AMC Sunset Place, and AMC Aventura on August 25th.