Ingrid Goes West

ingrid-goes-west-rev Ingrid Goes West  (2017)    Neon/Comedy-Drama    RT: 97 minutes    Rated R (language throughout, drug use, some sexual content, disturbing behavior)    Director: Matt Spicer    Screenplay: David Branson Smith and Matt Spicer    Music: Jonathan Sadoff and Nick Thorburn    Cinematography: Bryce Fortner    Release date: August 25, 2017 (Philadelphia, PA)    Cast: Aubrey Plaza, Elizabeth Olsen, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Wyatt Russell, Billy Magnussen, Pom Klementieff.

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 If the philosopher Rene Descartes was alive today, his most famous quote would be revised to read “I post, therefore I am.” George Berkley would posit this mind-blowing question: If it’s not on social media, did it really happen? Welcome to 2017 where society has become preoccupied with posting every single moment of their lives on social media in the belief that everybody cares about what they had for lunch or where they are at this very second.

 ingrid-goes-westIngrid Goes West is dark satire sharpened to a fine point which director Matt Spicer uses to poke and pierce our social media-obsessed culture. It stars Aubrey Plaza, most recently of the riotous 14th century convent comedy The Little Hours, as Ingrid, a lonely and profoundly disturbed young woman whose entire life is lived on Instagram. In the film’s opening scene, she crashes a wedding and sprays mace in the bride’s face in retaliation for not being invited, an act that earns her a stay in a mental institution. We soon learn that Ingrid and the bride weren’t even friends to begin with; the woman merely liked one of her comments on some post and Ingrid built it up in her mind from there.

 While leafing through a magazine, Ingrid happens upon an article about Instagram influencer Taylor Sloane (Olsen, Wind River), a social media goddess who lives a seemingly picture perfect life in L.A. She comments on one of her photos and Taylor responds with some inconsequential statement. Ingrid sees it as the start of a beautiful new friendship. Using the money ($62,000) she inherited from her recently deceased mother, Ingrid goes west to track down Taylor and start their real-life friendship. After a makeover, Ingrid follows her to her house and kidnaps her little dog as a means of meeting her in person. It works. Ingrid returns Taylor’s dog (claims she found him), refuses a monetary reward but accepts an invite to dinner.

 Almost immediately, you can see that Taylor’s life isn’t so perfect, a fact to which Ingrid is completely blind. Taylor’s seemingly laid-back artist husband Ezra (Russell, Everybody Wants Some) quietly resents his wife’s high-profile lifestyle. Her brother Nick (Magnussen, Birth of the Dragon) is a drug-addicted partier and an arrogant jerk who purposely calls Ingrid “Olga”. As for Taylor, she’s so not the person she claims to be. Now here’s the real kicker. Ingrid is so obsessed with Taylor and insinuating herself in her life that she doesn’t see that somebody is trying to make a real connection with her. That would be her landlord Dan (Jackson, Straight Outta Compton), a wannabe screenwriter obsessed with Batman. Ingrid takes advantage of the guy time and time again; she damages his truck to the tune of $8000 and bails on a table-reading of his latest Batman script. She thinks only in terms of her own needs and desires.

 You may think you know exactly where Ingrid Goes West is going but you don’t. I’ll say only this; it’s closer in spirit and tone to Martin Scorsese’s The King of Comedy than Single White Female. It’s funny but in the darkest sense of the word. At times, it’s downright uncomfortable. Watching Ingrid make one bad choice after another creates a great sense of unease. You feel embarrassed for her. Plus, you know it’s all going to blow up in her face at some point. In the role, the comedically-gifted Plaza shows great dramatic chops. She gets her character inside and out. She understands that Ingrid is an empty vessel with no idea of “self”. She lives vicariously through the pics on her feed; shattering that illusion might prove fatal. Even worse, Ingrid couldn’t stop even if she wanted to. Although she never comes out and says it, all those years of taking care of her sick mother on her own had a bad effect on her psyche. But what was she like before that? What was she like as a child? The screenplay never bothers to tell us.

 Olsen is also terrific as the shallow Taylor who isn’t all that different from Ingrid in that she’s an empty person who fills her void by branding out her life. Everything is “the best” and “you have to try it!” Her whole life is a series of great experiences, every one captured and posted on social media for the world to see. But what happens when the veil is lifted? What’s underneath? Jackson, so great as his father Ice Cube in the NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton, turns in another fine performance as the nice guy misfit who doesn’t seem to have a place in the world, much like his tenant.

 Ingrid Goes West, simply put, is brilliant. It asks the burning question “Where is the self?” Now that everything is so public, does the concept still exist? Much of the humor comes from recognizing the stuff we all do on-line. We like people’s comments and photos without more than a brief glance, hardly enough time to absorb the words or image. We follow and unfollow people, usually complete strangers. Who’s really sitting behind the computer? It could be somebody like Ingrid. She’s one of the most fascinating characters I’ve seen in a movie this year (hell, this century!). Ingrid Goes West is very timely in that it addresses “How We Live Now”. Too bad it will be outdated within five years, probably less. 

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