Director: Matt Spicer
Screenplay: David Branson Smith, Matt Spicer
Starring: Aubrey Plaza, Elizabeth Olsen, Billy Magnussen, Wyatt Russell, Pom Klementieff, O'Shea Jackson Jr.
Runtime: 97 Minutes
There are many variations of storyline that can be taken when utilising the common day-to-day usage of social media in a contemporary world. Many of which use it as matter of fact as a form of communication and drama, while others contort the very presence of technological interconnectivity in our lives to a more extreme degree of analysis. What’s most interesting, though, is the way in which we use technology to represent what are – for all intents and purposes – fictional avatars of ourselves in cyberspace.
Ingrid Goes West takes today's youngest generations obsession with other lives through the veneer of social media platforms, more specifically Instagram, and takes it to a pretty dark and contained place as Ingrid Thorburn (Aubrey Plaza) embarks on a twisted journey to become the BFF of a popular Instagram star, Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen).
The film’s depiction of the frivolous qualities of people’s lives lived out in the open is derisive, but accurately in touch with the extroverted lifestyles born out of such exposure. That Instagram and its affiliates specifically allowed their application to be represented in such a way is amazing, as it acts as a scathing indictment of vain so-called celebrities who emerge by basically doing absolutely nothing. It openly mirrors the perpetual cycles of instant gratification dispensed at the touch of a screen in the form of likes and retweets
Olsen’s Taylor Sloane is such an individual; she is as tailored to an extroverted and synthetic lifestyle as any real personality on the site. Creating an ideal image of herself for others to follow through carefully cultivated texts, filtered images and saccharin hashtags, she and others like her lie through their teeth in public about basic subjects to seem more cultured and niche than they actually are, from organic food snaps and intentionally framed selfies to simply pretending to have read books that sound deep.
Ingrid’s absorption into this world is understandable, and while still a symptom of a clear and present mental illness, it’s an exaggerative representation of that eternal chase after something that doesn’t exist. Of the personalities that different platforms and apps have formed over their years, mostly in the efforts of shameless self-promotion, Instagram is the endless party depicting the best parts of lives that we wish we could lead, and it suits the setting of the saturated uber-hip California perfectly.
This all sounds deeply depressing in how close it is to reality, and as dark as this comedy gets it’s also a rousing ride that borders on thriller and satire through its slightly off usage of its heavy string score. This is director/co-writer Matt Spicer’s first feature and it’s a great use of tactile ability through some well-matched picturesque framing and handheld camera work. Its screenplay is dry but observationally funny before veering into unsettling territory.
Aubrey Plaza has been nailing the role of the jaded misanthrope for years and her performance here is pitch-perfect, although playing someone more empathetically human and damaged who desperately pines for someone to just like her in any way possible. Olsen treads a very fine line of likability as her presence exudes friendliness, but her behaviour and character say something entirely more vacuous and egocentric. Either one of them could easily come out as the villain, but both are seen from different doomed perspectives as victims of their own doing and trapped in their own cycles of self-destruction.
As they vie for attention though, O'Shea Jackson Jr. steals every scene as a Batman obsessed aspiring screenwriter just trying to do the right thing, and the reliable Wyatt Russell doing his bohemian schtick all over again but with a slightly different flavour.
It’s possible that it takes its premise a little too far into absurdity in the third act as Ingrid digs herself into a deeper hole of her own miscalculations, but Ingrid Goes West is a damn strong piece of dark satire that feels immediate and reactionary with no easy solutions offered. It sustains its perspectives and dark sense of observational humour right up right until the final ambiguous, brilliant scene.