We all know the habit is a tough one to break: the habit of constantly reaching for our phones, tablets, laptops and computers, so that we can keep up with the ever-changing world of social media; so that we can share more of our lives- in hopes of garnering more ‘likes’; so that we can feel like we belong, like we fit in. But, once you watch this month’s movie, and after the final moments have passed- after the lights come on and the credits start to roll, please resist the urge to grab your phone because, if there’s one thing you should take away from Ingrid Goes West, it’s that real life is the real story, and it’s happening right now, in front of you!
Ingrid Goes West is an astute and satirical portrait of obsession, identity, manipulation and shallow instant gratification. A dark Dramedy about today’s social media culture and the mirror this online bubble holds up to the hollow-ness of our own lives; Ingrid Goes West is a sharp and brilliant first feature from director Matt Spicer, who co-wrote the screenplay with David Branson SmithAubrey Plaza’s (Parks and Recreation), involvement- she is one of the film’s producers- and her coercion of fellow cast-mates: Elizabeth Olsen (yep, the third, and by far the most talented, Olsen sister- for those not already in the know), and O’Shea Jackson (Ice Cube’s son who played his father in 2015’s Straight Outta Compton), into the project is what pushed the film to be made.
Our tale opens with a buoyant voiceover asking a simple question: ‘Is this real?’. No, this is not a question seeking to be answered by some deep, poignant, even philosophical, musing- or a further, more probing question. This is a hashtag humblebrag and, of course, it is accompanied by the most perfect Instagram shot (filter and all), the sort that boasts the kind of happiness the world can envy- the happiness that only exists on social media. The person staring at this faux-ality, is Ingrid (Plaza), our lonely and emotionally unstable character study.
Her hair a straggly mess, depressingly pasted to her anxious face, her makeup’s run and her eyes are all cried-out. Ingrid lives her life vicariously- yet completely- through other people’s social feeds. The obsession is all-consuming (she even brushes her teeth with one hand, whilst her phone is in the other), it’s a constant double-tap of Instagram likes- and this has become Ingrid’s reality. Her identity, and/or sense of self worth and value, is derived from whether anyone in the ether even notices her or cares to reply back to her comments.
Our Ingrid, whilst thumbing through a magazine in the bath, stumbles upon an article about Taylor Sloane (Olsen), a social media connoisseur, whose expertly curated and beautifully filtered life on Instagram stirs Ingrid’s obsessive nature and, once Taylor responds to Ingrid’s comment about Avocado Toast, Ingrid immediately sets her mind to the idea of moving ‘West’ to Sunny California, using the money left to her after her mother’s passing. Suffice to say, Ingrid Goes West is the Single White Female of this generation- yet disturbingly more relatable.
Through an already worrying deception, Ingrid inserts herself into Taylor’s life and beomes one of her inner circle of friends. Taylor’s entire existence is a series of well-composed, Instagram-ready tableaus as she earns her money marketing other businesses through her Instagram posts and her affectations havn’t gone unnoticed by her ‘pop artist’ husband, Ezra (Wyatt Russell), but more on this later.
Yep, pretty much the only genuine person in this group is Ingrid’s Landlord/admirer, Dan Pinto (Jackson): an aspiring screenwriter with a Batman love that, endearingly, goes deeper than just being ‘cool’. Dan’s love for ‘The Dark Knight’ is highlighted as the contrast between what would be called a ‘healthy obsession’ (though the kind that usually invites mockery, regardless), and the far more unsettling compulsion to mimic someone’s actual life. Keeping Up with the Joneses is all the more nauseating in 2017! It’s all the more noteworthy (and, no doubt, intentional), that the one person who truly seems to want to get to know Ingrid is the one person she spends time trying to avoid until she can see his use in a social setting. Ingrid is incapable of relating to what’s right in front of her because she’s too busy trying to be someone else with the people she has forced a connection with. Again, searching for that validation of what’s ‘cool’ or acceptable, all so she can pretend she fits in.
Plaza, who is best known for her total deadpan nonchalance, and unique comedic style, is a revelation in the role. She, incredibly (and convincingly), manages to sell the peculiar mix of Ingrid’s intensity and disconnectedness without veering into melodramatic territories. You will forever remember the way in which Plaza turns the innocuous ‘All My Life’ by K-Ci & JoJo into a deeply sinister and strangely aggressive declaration of undying love. Trust me, this is something you won’t forget in a hurry!
Ingrid Goes West is a chilling criticism of our image-obsessed culture. The way in which Ingrid’s story seems to combust, only highlights the lunacy of the times we’re in whereby, frequently, one’s life is dictated by their perception of the way the rest of the world view them, and how they can fashion the most enviable life for themselves (with all the best filters), so that everyone else believes they’re living the most fulfilling and inspiring of life journeys- when, in reality, they’re most likely empty, perhaps lost, and unfulfilled internally. The grass is always greener, isn’t it? It’s a withering dissection of artificiality Vs. authenticity- and it’s not just Ingrid that’s affected by this, considering even Taylor likes to throw in, what she considers to be ‘cool’, references to enhance her own hipster credibility, when it’s hubby, Ezra’s, taste in reality. Even when Ingrid discovers how inauthentic Taylor is, she is still, somehow infatuated with the fakeness of Taylor’s life and her ‘friendship’ with her. She’s a lost sheep following another sheep.
Ingrid Goes West is also a film that blatantly, unashamedly, calls out our need for validation through online acknowledgement from random people, as well as everyone’s own voyeuristic digital behaviour. Maybe it’s high time we all asked ourselves if stalking that Facebook crush was really as innocent as we thought it was? Or maybe we should be wondering about the places that we go and the photos that we take. Are we simply photographing the scene/moment because we know it makes a good Instagram post- and because we’ll get likes? Or are we so stuck in that culture that we don’t even realise what we’re doing anymore?
It is quite remarkable to think that Ingrid Goes West has come from first-time filmmaker, Spicer, because there is enough balance, maturity and confidence here, to have come from a much more seasoned pro! A second, or third cinematic outing would be more believable- but no, this is a stellar first and deserves every bit of success the film has gathered at the likes of the Sundance and South by Southwest, film festivals, earlier this year!
This is not a film that will hang around in cinemas- but I truly hope you check it out! There are moments that will genuinely cause you to laugh out loud because of their sheer awkwardness, and yet, Plaza’s sincerity and gusto in the role is so authentic that you can’t help but see the murkier tones at the film’s core. Ingrid Goes West is a darkly witty movie that deserves to be seen, not just for the great film that it is, but also because it poses some fascinating questions about our online obsessions, and also our need for constant acceptance and validation- even when we’re seeking these from false prophets. What makes us who we are- and how much of that is genuine? Yep, this brilliant film delves deeper than just what’s on the surface and I hope you manage to catch it! Now…let me go deactivate all my social media accounts….