Aubrey Plaza breaks out of her character actor mold to deliver a nuanced and astonishing performance in “Ingrid Goes West.” The part is still comedic, but beneath are the motives of a troubled woman with a seemingly limitless need to be recognized socially. Plaza’s character Ingrid fixates that obsession on Taylor Sloane, played by Elizabeth Olsen, an Instagram starlet who posts and hashtags her perfect living.
Ingrid’s obsession with the good life of the social media star drives her to commit incredibly intrusive, often criminal acts. She moves to California using the life insurance money received from the death of her mother. She then tracks Taylor’s movements through posts and even stoops to stealing her dog for the opportunity to later return it. The cringe-worthy lengths Ingrid is willing to go to for Taylor’s attention are ripe with the eventual doom of her plans.
Ingrid’s selfish motivations eventually envelop her kind, “420 friendly” landlord and neighbor. Dan Pinto, played by “Straight Outta Compton” star O’Shea Jackson Jr., is a much needed beacon of basic morality in the plot of rampant narcissism. He offers much of the comedic and relatable relief from the shuddering actions of Ingrid. His unapologetic love for Batman and genuine personality are both perplexing to Ingrid and sometimes an affront to her deceitful plans. Unfortunately, his caring, friendly ways do little to curb her selfishness or obsession.
The surface comedy of Plaza’s acting seem similar to her past work. But it’s the expression in key moments like the “All My Life” karaoke car scene that let the depth of the part shine through. As she stares at Taylor in the driver seat with deep, fanatical longing, the audience can grasp the spine-chilling endlessness to her determination.
The eventual likability of Ezra (Wyatt Russell) is perhaps the most surprising development in the story. The obviously talentless, modern artist husband of Taylor seems like the ultimate rich product of an elite California enclave. He begins as an artist stereotype dribble of a person in the beginning. Yet his growing discomfort with the Insta-world make him one of the few genuine characters in the plot.
It is Ezra who informs the takeaway of the film. Taylor’s life is —surprise— not all it cracks up to be. Her favorite book is not one she’s ever read; her analysis amounts to just anecdotes she has picked up from her husband. He reminisces about “the old Taylor” before her Instagram star days.
The theme is predictable but still an important one– a ‘Black Mirror’ allegory for the current day. The perfect life and marriage on social media are a sham. The hashtags and flattering lighting do not equate to real human connections. Likes and follows are not ambitions that result in self-worth.
It’s a shame that the directorial debut of Matt Spicer didn’t muster more critical and public acclaim. It won a “Best Screenplay” award from Sundance, but didn’t break into any mainstream success.
The story is not without flaws. Spoiler alert— $60,000 will NOT last you that long in California and Dan’s patience with Ingrid’s self-involvement seems unrealistic. But ultimately the stylized social commentary was a win for Spicer and Plaza.
His directing style and the theme were somewhat reminiscent of Coppola’s “The Bling Ring,” based on the true life story of rich teens who robbed famous starlets in the early 2000’s. Similar cut shots in “Ingrid” make an Insta-post like feel of photo after photo of glorious beach shots, and the soundtrack helps paint the picture of elite California living.
The story of Ingrid’s obsession is an extreme one. Most people would never steal a dog or go to such lengths for likes or attention. But it’s the scenes when she’s lying in bed crying and can’t put her phone down, that are the true mirror of everyday behavior. It’s the jolt of dopamine that follows each notification of a like, the clear instance of satisfaction and the drive for more, that we should find foreboding.