The opening scene of Ingrid Goes West – which involves Aubrey Plaza’s Ingrid spraying a bride with mace on her wedding day for not inviting her, despite having only ever conversed once on an Instagram comments section – doesn’t hesitate in introducing its themes of obsession and loneliness either. What follows is an increasingly uncomfortable spiral into madness and depression, as Ingrid is released from a mental hospital and quickly decides to move to California and “meet up” with an Instagram celebrity she follows, named Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen).
On the surface, Ingrid Goes West could just be sold as a traditional stalker film for the social media generation, where Ingrid manages to track down Taylor by just frequenting the restaurants and neighborhoods she posts the most Instagram photos about. But as Taylor and Ingrid become better “friends” throughout the course of the film, and the behind-the-scenes messiness of Taylor’s life is revealed, it becomes increasingly clear that Ingrid Goes West is about much more than that.
Writer and director Matt Spicer’s Ingrid Goes West proves to be one of the more successful cinematic looks at the social media generation. Not because it’s willing to just take a shot at modern day society, but that it feels like it was made by someone who understands the appeal of social media in the first place.
The film uses its stalker storyline to investigate the ever-changing definition of “celebrity” in contemporary society. After all, what does “idol” mean nowadays, when someone can garner millions of online followers, just by taking enough photos with the right hashtags and filters? Ingrid Goes West doesn’t just point out how increasingly difficult it’s becoming for people to connect with one another, but how much harder it is for younger generations to determine their own self-worth, in a world where terms like “talented” and “inspirational” are becoming more and more interchangeable with “famous.”
Aubrey Plaza gives one of her best performances to date as Ingrid, a girl who believes that all of her problems will go away if she’s just able to recapture the same life as Taylor – or rather, Taylor’s Instagram feed. She walks a tonal tightrope with her performance by undercutting Ingrid’s madness and increasing desperation with a simultaneously sad and comedic edge. She helps bring a manic kind of energy to even the film’s most formulaic of meandering moments, which pop up throughout the middle section of the film as Ingrid leisurely enjoys her time in the California sun.
The film’s other standout performer is O’Shea Jackson Jr. as Dan Pinto, Ingrid’s landlord with a full-fledged Batman obsession that bleeds over into each of his daily actions and desires. He’s the one character in the film who doesn’t let the pull of social media overwhelm his every action, and as such proves to be a crucial counterbalance to the drama going on between Ingrid and Taylor. In case his turn in Straight Outta Compton hadn’t already proved it, Jackson Jr. confirms here his status as an up-and-coming star whose work should be closely watched in the years to come.
Some of Spicer’s directorial choices, though admirable, like making the film’s cinematography drab and reflective of Ingrid’s own self-hatred, wear thin as time goes on. But for the most part, Spicer manages to pull off everything he wants to in Ingrid Goes West, and the result is a haunting look at the allure of social media stars and “influencers” who curate and edit their lives to look like unachievable, fairy tale adventures. The film drags slightly in its second act and can be prone to taking unnecessary tangents at times, but these are forgivable mistakes in the long run.