Film Review: Ingrid Goes West
I was worried based on the trailers and marketing for Ingrid Goes West that it was going to be a cautionary tale about the perils of social media. One of those condescending 'lessons' about how much better the world would be if we still used rotary phones and things like that. You know, stuff like this. Thankfully, Ingrid Goes West is not that, it's not even about social media despite being set in the Instagram Age.
Written by Matt Spicer and David Branson Smith and directed by Spicer, the movie is about Ingrid (Aubrey Plaza), who has recently been released from a mental hospital and following the death of her mother decides to reinvent herself in Los Angeles, inspired by the Instagram feed of a seemingly perfect influencer named Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen). Using clues from her Instagram, Ingrid tracks Taylor down and befriends her. Yes, Instagram plays a large part in the story, but it's one that could be (and has been) told in many other time periods in many other locations.
The movie is not condescending towards users of social media and technology, but it is filled with plenty of jokes about those things. There's such a specificity to the jokes that you'll either find them hysterical (like I did) or not get them at all (like the elderly couple sitting behind me. Apparently, the husband had trouble hearing because he kept asking his wife why everyone was laughing and there were parts where the wife confessed she didn't know what the joke was). It's a film that's very much of its time, but that's not what it's commenting on. It's a story about loneliness, wanting to be accepted, and mental illness. Whether or not a comedy is the best vehicle in which to tell that story is up for debate, but I, for one, never thought the movie was mocking any of those topics.
The best part of Ingrid Goes West is Plaza's performance, a terrific blend of comedy and heartache. While we might not always be able to understand Ingrid's actions, which get increasingly stalkerish, we always understand the impulses behind them. Who hasn't spent time scrolling through social media wishing they were somewhere else? The rest of the cast is rounded out by Wyatt Russell as Taylor's husband, Billy Magnussen as Taylor's brother, and O'Shea Jackson Jr. as Ingrid's neighbor and friend. All three are great.
It's a credit to both the script and Olsen's performance that Taylor never feels like a caricature or a joke. To Taylor, every meal, purchase, and outing is an opportunity for an Instagram and it would be very easy to play that up for laughs. She's the type of person who quotes Emerson in her beach pics, pretends to love Norman Mailer, and named her dog Rothko. But the audience can't help but like her and see the flawed human underneath the perfect facade. And that makes us sympathize with Ingrid all the more. Ingrid's dreams aren't unreasonable or unattainable, the woman she's idolizing is not a superhero (although Olsen is also an Avenger), she just wants a friend.
The first third of the film is excellent. The other two thirds are where the tone begins to warble a bit, but it's saved by its clever ending. There are not enough dramatic moments for this to be classified as a comedy-drama, but there is enough darkness to feel like a comedy that missed an opportunity to be something deeper. The only other complaint I had was that the visual style of the film remains the same throughout, despite Ingrid's surroundings and circumstances changing drastically.
My fear is that people not familiar with social media (not necessarily older people but probably a good number of older people) will see this movie as something it's not. They'll blame social media for Ingrid's mental illness while refusing to recognize the real problem that is the mental health epidemic in this country. They'll see it as another chance to take a jab at the clueless young people 'always stuck on their phones' and walk out of the theatre proud of themselves for not being so dumb. So, go see this wonderful little movie, unless you think you are going to interpret it like that, in which case, don't.
Ingrid Goes West hits theatres Friday, August 11th.
What are your thoughts on Ingrid Goes West? Let me know in the comments below! Thanks for reading!