Movie Review : Ingrid Goes West (2017)
Ten years ago, social media were an afterthought. Facebook was a simple networking platform allowing you to exchange platitudes with people who would've been out of your life otherwise. Twitter was a virtual barroom where you shot the shit with strangers. Instagram didn't even exist yet. But here we are today, living in their world. They've taken such a dominant place in our culture that we're now making movies about them. And I have the pleasure of telling you the first good movie about social media is finally here and it's a quirky little independent film titled Ingrid Goes West, which explores the emerging issue of Instagram influencers.
So, Ingrid Goes West is the story of an unstable young woman named Ingrid Thornburn (Aubrey Plaza), who stalks people on Instagram. The movie opens on Ingrid crying in her car while liking the wedding photos of a woman named Charlotte. Then, she promptly exits her car, walks into the wedding reception and maces Charlotte for not inviting her to her wedding (it's in the trailer). Ingrid is institutionalized following her outburst, shunned from her community and, of course, unfriended by Charlotte on Instagram. She eventually goes back home, where her mom seems to have died a long and painful death, with nothing but her own heartbreak to hold on to. That is until she finds herself a new Instagram friend to follow, popular influencer Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen) who lives at the other end of the country. Ingrid has nothing going for her except her own obsessions and her mother's inheritance, soooo....
Ingrid Goes West is a movie about mental illness. It's a movie about social media too, but we'll get to that. Hollywood has a poor track record of portraying mentally ill characters. They're either quirky and whimsical outsiders who are fundamentally misunderstood * or murderous madmen who eat feces like it's foie gras. ** Both Aubrey Plaza and Ingrid Goes West's co-screenwriter and director Matt Spicer do a good job at not shying away from what mental illness really is. Ingrid has these violent and awkward, obsessive outburst that are nowhere near being funny. Her illness controls her. Don't get me wrong, Ingrid Goes West is fucking hilarious at times, but it is in a Coen'esque way. The satire is loaded with caustic social commentary. I burst out laughing in the theater when I saw Taylor's husband's (Wyatt Russell) paintings.
It's a mean movie, guys. But it's equally mean to every character, which is great.
I'm aware that social media are an easy target for satire. They transformed us in caricatures of ourselves, fiending for the approval of people we don't even know, blah, blah, blah. But it's not the what that makes Ingrid Goes West special, it's the how. Matt Spicer and his co-screenwriter David Branson Smith portray Influencer culture as a deformed mirror of the fantasies of a mentally ill person and that it really clever and funny to me. In the self-made world of Instagram influencers, you only need to pretend in order to become. You're in complete control of how you want to be. Ingrid's basic misunderstanding of that concept is what leads her to become a social media stalker. She might've as well become a successful influencer of her own had she awareness and control of her illness, but there's the kicker: no one is looking out for her since her mother died. She's lost like Alice in Wonderland in a schizoaffective culture that mirrors her fantasies.
Ingrid Goes West is a performance-driven movie. Aubrey Plaza offers a fantastic, nuanced performance as the unstable and vulnerable Ingrid, who's determined to find her yellow brick road. Elizabeth Olsen is fucking amazing, though. The part of Taylor Sloane redefines the entire scope of her dramatic potential. Often typecast in doe-eyed victims, Olsen is ferociously shining at the fake-ass, opportunistic, slightly predatory California girl. I was in love with her and wanted to set her house on fire at the same time. Oshea Jackson Jr. offered a steady performance too and made the most out of the MacGuffin of a character he was handed. The bronze medal for performances in Ingrid Goes West goes to Wyatt Russell, though. He was dealt the most emotionally complex character and made him shine in very little screen time. Ingrid Goes West's screenplay was strong enough to carry any cast, but these actors lived up to the great writing.
I really enjoyed Ingrid Goes West. It was not perfect, some of the scenes felt rigid and forced but vibrant performances from the cast and strong social commentary helped ease through the speed bumps. I would not give it a perfect grade, but it's easily one of the most satisfying movies I've seen in 2017. It engaged me both on a visceral level with its sober and fearless exploration of mental illness and clever social commentary on influencer lifestyle engaged me like few other movies did this year. And it's a pretty funny movie too. Ingrid Goes West is going to have a short-lived theater run, but I strongly encourage you to watch this smart and spirited independent film. It's bound to become a cult classic once it hits home video. Loved it.