Seeking your fortune out west never grows old
Ingrid Goes West is a funny, moving, and surprisingly, even heartbreaking look at obsession
Ingrid Goes West
Directed by Matt Spicer
Written by Matt Spicer and David Branson Smith
Starring Aubrey Plaza, Elizabeth Olsen, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Wyatt Russell, Billy Magnussen
Rated R, Now Playing
Clutching her phone close to her, a young woman scrolls through Instagram and likes beautiful, happy wedding photos. It is not hunky dory; this woman is sobbing and angry. We find her crashing a “friend’s” wedding, getting sent to a mental hospital and instantly, we are welcomed into the world of the obsessive Ingrid Thorburn (Aubrey Plaza).
Following the wedding and her mother’s death, Ingrid finds herself alone. After seeing Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen), a popular Instagrammer and Los Angeles socialite, in a magazine, Ingrid yearns for this idyllic lifestyle. Using the cash left behind by her mother, Ingrid sets out west to meet her idol, reinventing herself as a LA girl by imitating Taylor.
Plaza plays a sympathetic character who can get us to laugh both at her and with her. Stalking a social media celebrity needs class: stuff your mouth with fries. Renting a room needs money: pull out stacks of bills (no, you’re not a hooker or drug dealer). Making friends requires a car: steal a truck from your imaginary boyfriend. But amidst the fun hijinks, we see Ingrid’s status grow more fragile. Taylor’s drug-addict brother Nicky (Billy Magnussen) sees through Ingrid’s donned persona, as she is not who she tries to be.
Everything, of course, erupts in flames when Ingrid’s lies catch up to her. When she is most vulnerable, Plaza does not overact; Ingrid isn’t your melodramatic heroine. When she tells Dan (O’Shea Jackson Jr.), her landlord, the truth, it’s sincere. Despite being a predictable move, her moment of sincerity feels earned after covering up her insecurities with bleached hair and Instagram photos of glamorous food.
Perhaps the only indulgent point is Dan’s tolerance for Ingrid. We know he sympathizes with her mother’s death having too lost his parents. The film wisely leans away from the morose, as the Dan’s love of Batman is a joke that gets good mileage, both as a more on-the-nose comment on the value of ordinary people and a running gag. In the midst of glamour, he is the voice of reason and, sometimes, a little too good to be true. But Plaza’s performance as Ingrid is so compelling that I just wish the best for her, and Dan’s acceptance of her is the what she needs.
It is only at the end when I realize that Ingrid could easily appear to be psychotic, obsessive, and dangerous. She is still those things, but moreso, she is afraid, friendless, and tired of being alone. Had the film not been empathetic to her plight, Ingrid could easily have been vilified. I walked in expecting a comedy, but instead, I left sympathizing with Ingrid, because for a young woman who obsesses with how she looks and acts, who keeps her phone close to her heart, Ingrid is far from being a digital fake.
The film isn’t just about technology; it’s about our relationship with it. Go on and retweet #iamingrid. Follow @ingridgoeswest. Just do it in moderation.