UK Release Date: 17th November 2017
Runtime: 98 minutes
Director: Matt Spicer
Writer: David Branson Smith, Matt Spicer
Starring: Aubrey Plaza, Elizabeth Olsen, Wyatt Russell, O’Shea Jackson Jr, Billy Magnussen, Pom Klementieff
Synopsis: A woman dangerously obsessed with social media inveigles herself into the life of a seemingly perfect Instagram star, with the goal of becoming her best and only friend.
The ubiquity of social media has proven ripe for satire in recent years, with Black Mirror attracting plaudits on television and horror movies like Unfriended and Friend Request showing the dark potential of our permanent attachment to mobile phones and Facebook feeds. The latest attempt to mine this corner of modern culture in movie form is Ingrid Goes West, in which Aubrey Plaza brings her unique brand of deadpan to the sun-soaked, pastel-coloured world of Instagram ‘influencers’ and their exquisitely filtered personas.
It’s tough to imagine the film working with anyone other than Plaza, who has an unusual darkness to her in general, which is enhanced further by her role here. The Life After Beth star portrays the eponymous online stalker, who takes an inheritance from her recently deceased mother and rents a home in glamorous Los Angeles. Ingrid is motivated not by real estate opportunities, but by her newfound devotion to photogenic Instagram celebrity Taylor (Elizabeth Olsen), who lives in Venice Beach with her hipster artist husband (Wyatt Russell). She is able to befriend Taylor via a deceitful criminal act and must adjust to a world where she’s getting exactly what she wants.
This is Plaza’s film, for sure, but director Matt Spicer benefits from a talented young ensemble who slot into the material very nicely. Elizabeth Olsen, in a role very different to her best known work, is believable and grating as the cartoonishly perfect Taylor, whose life seems to exist solely as a consistently photographed flurry of avocado dishes, artisan coffee and sun-baked landscapes. Her relationship with an intriguingly restrained Wyatt Russell unfolds in compelling fashion, as Taylor’s devotion to her ‘Insta-fans’ clashes with his Luddite ideas and desire to be taken seriously as an artist. It’s Russell’s best performance since his laidback stoner in Everybody Wants Some!! and a perfect vessel for his easygoing charisma.
The most impressive aspect of Ingrid Goes West, though, lies away from its dark-hearted satire and on considerably lighter ground. Plaza’s relationship with her vape-smoking landlord Dan is adorable and palpably real in comparison to her falsified life. Dan is brought to life with immense likeability by O’Shea Jackson Jr, who was so impressive playing his father in Straight Outta Compton a few years ago. The scenes between he and Plaza have a real fizz and chemistry, including in a truly bizarre sex scene, and Dan is almost certainly the best big-screen Batman character this year. Sorry, Ben Affleck.
Spicer has a clear thesis behind his story – that Taylor’s elegantly curated image is every bit as fake as the life Ingrid creates for herself. Unfortunately for the film, this message is as subtle as a Godzilla tap dance and lacks the complexity of even the most simple Black Mirror episode. The darker elements of the story, particularly as it moves into its final act, are not dealt with in as sure-footed a way as the early criticism of vacuous Instagram fame, leaving the finale lacking the punch of what has come before it.
Pop or Poop?
Aubrey Plaza delivers an acid-tongued satire of social media’s inherent lies as the star of Ingrid Goes West, even as the film fails to deepen its message beyond that rather facile central idea. The performances are considerably better than the film surrounding them and it’s for that reason alone that Spicer’s movie is almost worth a trip to the cinema.
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