Well, now that “social media influencer” is an actual job title, people who call themselves that are now inviting targets for satire. Ingrid Goes West, which comes out in a few Tarrant County theaters this weekend, is the first crack at it, and while it doesn’t hit the bullseye, it still scores some decent points.
We first see Ingrid Thorburn (Aubrey Plaza) crying deeply in her car before getting out to pepper-spray a bride at her wedding for the crime of not having invited her, even though said bride turns out to barely know Ingrid. Some time in a mental institution does nothing to change Ingrid’s frame of mind, although the $60,000 her recently deceased mother left her does the trick. Ingrid moves out to L.A. and finds Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen), a beautiful young Angeleno whose Instagram feed has enough followers to get her profiled in glossy monthly magazines. Soon Ingrid buys all the clothes Taylor endorses, dyes her hair the same shade of blonde, dines at her favorite health-food restaurant (where she spits out a beautiful-looking cauliflower samosa), and seizes an opportunity to insinuate herself into Taylor’s life.
Right, so Ingrid is gullible enough to believe the flawless facades that people like Taylor put up for themselves on social media. It’s a promising starting point for a satire, but writer-director Matt Spicer (making his feature film debut) never quite works out just how far gone Ingrid’s mind is. Clearly Ingrid isn’t stupid, but he and co-writer David Branson Smith can’t decide whether she’s truly unwell in a clinical sense, in love with Taylor, or merely someone who has absorbed society’s values so completely that she measures her self-worth by the number of her followers. Maybe that’s why Plaza never settles into groove for playing this crazed stalker. We don’t get a sense of Ingrid’s unease at interacting with the physical world or her capacity for violence when her illusions are shattered.
Having said that, Plaza does have her moments, especially when she turns passive-aggressive and possessive in the presence of Taylor’s loathsome cokehead brother (Billy Magnussen). Her skills as a physical comic come into play during Ingrid’s chance first face-to-face encounter with Taylor, as she tries and fails to act casual. You can feel the rush of happiness she feels the first time Taylor tags her in a photo. Ingrid’s climactic monologue into her phone, when her world has crumbled around her, is done well too. She gets good help from the supporting cast, especially O’Shea Jackson Jr. (last seen playing his dad Ice Cube in Straight Outta Compton), who demonstrates a low-key sort of charm as a Batman-obsessed struggling screenwriter who rents out Ingrid’s apartment.
Ingrid Goes West has enough laughs to be enjoyable, and it gets to say “first post,” as it were. Still, the great movie about how our perfectly buffed social-media selves act upon the world is yet to be made. Don’t worry, it will be. We’re cursed with a president who goes on Twitter to proclaim himself as the reason why everything is great, when it’s manifestly clear that he’s the reason everything isn’t. Next to him, Ingrid is a model of self-awareness.
Ingrid Goes West
Starring Aubrey Plaza and Elizabeth Olsen. Directed by Matt Spicer. Written by David Branson Smith and Matt Spicer. Rated R.