Genre: Comedy, Drama
Directed by: Matt Spicer
Starring: Aubrey Plaza, Elizabeth Olsen, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Wyatt Russell, Billy Magnussen
Ingrid Goes West turns the iPhone into a storytelling motif charting Ingrid’s (Aubrey Plaza) personal journey while satirising our dependency on technology. It’s a smart piece of writing in a savvy, engaging and fun film, but it also makes Ingrid Goes West strictly a film of our time that will become dated by the next iPhone update.
The plot is relatively simple. Ingrid moves out to LA, and taking the “following” element of social media literally, goes on a mission to befriend Instagram influencer, Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olson). They become fast friends until Taylor’s brother Nicky (Billy Magnussen, having the time of his life) turns up and starts asking awkward questions. Reduced to its base elements, the film sounds derivative, but it plays with your expectations, presenting familiar plot points through an oft-kilt prism.
As a character, Ingrid is beautifully unsympathetic. Plaza does her usual routine of playing bluntness for comedic effect and she skilfully establishes that Ingrid’s rudeness masks her vulnerability. When the inevitable comes, you will feel sorry for Ingrid, even if the film labels her a “freak” one too many times. Debut director Matt Spicer falls back on Ingrid’s mental health problems to cheaply contextualise her obsessive nature without showing any empathy towards her.
The same can’t be said about Taylor. Her obsessive use of Instagram is never explored. She remains as basic AF, and Spicer doesn’t question why she advertises “her life”. Olsen tries her hardest to make Taylor more than a muse, intoning lines like “morning vibes” with little irony during Spicer’s deft visual representation of falling down the social media rabbit hole. But the only interesting thing about this boho-chic is her puny Insta name, Taylormade.Spicer gets some good laughs by using Taylor and Ingrid to mock the basic bitches of Instagram and their ohmygawdiloveyou culture. The funniest moments come from Taylor’s dictatorial approach to her feed, demanding a petrol station employee get on the ground when he takes her picture or Ingrid’s indecision between “hahaha”, “hehehe” or “hah hah hah”. Any one who has used a mobile post-2010 will find their frustrations relatable, and the director nails the disingenuous nature of digital conversations, and how it has impacted the characters IRL dialogue.
These repressed characters struggle communicating with each other, speaking in stilted sentences or only opening up with the aid of alcohol. They are connected to hundreds of people but lack meaningful relationships. Unfortunately, Spicer never lingers on this element, preferring to take potshots at social media culture, and he only has one joke. It’s a funny joke, but it doesn’t have long enough legs for a feature-length movie.
Interestingly, none of the male characters are depicted using social media, and are presented with more warmth. Ezra (Wyatt Russell, brightening up the screen) actively hates it, even if his “artwork” relies on hashtags, and Dan (MVP O’Shea Jackson Jr) is the only one being true to himself, even if it means flaunting his Batman obsession. In the world Ingrid Goes West presents, social media usage is gendered as if snapping a picture of latte art is exclusively female. Well, that’s some bullshit.