' ' Cinema Romantico: Ingrid Goes West

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Ingrid Goes West

“Ingrid Goes West” opens with its titular twenty-something (Aubrey Plaza) barging into a wedding and macing the bride as payback for not being invited. As is quickly revealed, however, Ingrid was not even an acquaintance of the bride, let alone a friend, merely her Instagram follower, evoking social media’s blurring of the lines between friend and follower, between real and fantasy, a line that director Matt Spicer, in his feature film debut, seeks to both scrutinize and skewer. He does this fairly effectively, at least for a while, and with minimal avocado toast jokes, thank God, though as the movie progresses the social media satire starts to strain as “Ingrid Goes West” transitions into something more like a traditional stalker drama.

After the wedding incident, Ingrid does time in a mental health facility before fleeing to California with $60,000 inherited from her deceased mother, a barely sketched plot point existing to provide a financial foundation for her adventure to the Left Coast. Really, she is a deliberate blank slate, no one as a means to underline how fiercely she connects to what she sees on Instagram, frenzied to remake herself in the plethora of handsomely filtered images she sees. And upon arriving in L.A., she barnacles herself to Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen), an online entrepreneur who takes photographs of herself with brands as a means to make a living, or something, an idea worthy of exploration that Spicer sort of sidesteps, locking more into the specifics of her faux-friendship with Ingrid.

The squirmy psychology of their relationship is never more evident than a day trip to Joshua Tree that concludes with them singing along to K-Ci and JoJo’s “All My Life.” Ingrid, staring at Taylor rather than the road with a psychotic love written in her eyes, transforms the chorus, “All my life I’ve prayed for someone like you”, into a horror movie moment while Taylor remains oblivous to her pseudo friend’s hysteria. Indeed, the moment is emblematic of Olsen’s whole performance, existing utterly unto herself, doing this thing where she earnestly looks at people without actually listening to what they have to say, a nifty and necessary trick that makes her failure to detect Ingrid’s fierce clinginess believable.

That trip ends in semi-disaster when the truck Ingrid has borrowed from her landlord Dan (O’Shea Jackson Jr.), and which she promises to have back before dusk only to pointedly renege by ignoring his texts and calls, is severely damaged. Taylor’s assurances that “he’ll understand” because it’s only “a mistake” are evocative of the blithe indifference to actual reality, and Ingrid’s getting away with it scot-free is indicative of how easily she walks all over him after sucking him into her delusional orbit. However, while Dan is written as being a Batman fanatic – “I am Batman” – as a means to underline his own delusion, Jackson plays the part with so much amiable charm he undercuts that self-deception, never coming across as out of touch as all those around him, making it difficult to accept that he can’t see all these narcissists for who they are, especially when he becomes Ingrid’s accomplice.

This happens when Taylor’s brother (Billy Magnussen) becomes suspicious of his sister’s new friend’s intentions, leading Ingrid to take drastic action and lose complete control. As she does, the movie careens into violence and its satire sort of falls away, offering the dime store philosophy that who you are online might not be who you are underneath. What’s worse, there are hints throughout that Ingrid’s Instagram obsession is simply an outgrowth of deeper psychological problems, like that brief mental hospital stint, a serious matter that the film never follows up on, causing it to feel insultingly flip and misplaced. Yet for all the emergent flaws, Plaza’s intense austerity stands out. The movie aims for a “Young Adult”-ish landing of enabling Ingrid’s monstrousness, and while it does not quite come off because she is never brought to the brink of change, that failure still sort of works, her one-dimensional dehumanization a terrifying metaphor for the social media age.

1 comment:

Derek Armstrong said...

Dang it, why must you point out all the flaws in the films in my burgeoning top ten? (Good review.)