"A pleasantly darker take on the self-indulgent valley-girl mindset that's plaguing various people armed with a smartphone and stable Wi-Fi connection."
by Steve Pulaski
The first ten minutes of Ingrid Goes West do a better job of telling us all we need to know about the titular character than the remaining 84. The film opens with her flicking through Instagram pictures on her phone, double-tapping each one to "like" or "heart" them through weepy eyes of jealousy and anger. She finally composes herself enough to get out of her car and convincingly trot across the venue where her "friend" is getting married to spray mace directly in her neatly made-up eyes. "Thanks for inviting me to your wedding," she sarcastically says followed by some choice adjectives I chose to omit. Ingrid then spends time at a mental hospital where she emerges as defeated and as depressed as she's ever been, especially with her mother's recent passing.
She spends her days aimlessly scrolling through photos showcasing the drudgery of people whose primary incomes are forged by way of likes and follows to stumble upon Taylor Sloane's (Elizabeth Olsen) profile. Taylor is a big social media presence, accumulating over 250 thousand followers in little time as she posts artfully framed and filtered photos of her wealthy existence, captioning them with empty statements with equally empty emojis accompanying them. Ingrid begins following her, and, using her mother's $60,000 inheritance, decides to stay in an adequate Los Angeles abode in order to get closer to her latest Instagram idol.
By dog-napping a close companion and recognizable face in many of Taylor's post, Ingrid successfully weasels her way into the life of her and her husband Ezra (Wyatt Russell). She takes pictures of Taylor's medicine cabinet and decorative images in her hallways in order to treasure each and every trite detail of this woman's existence. Her motivations are a mystery to Dan (O'Shea Jackson Jr.), Ingrid's landlord who must pose as her boyfriend at an outing featuring the married socialites and Taylor's frat-boy brother Nicky (Billy Magnussen). Dan is your average L.A. good-boy, equipped with enough Lakers memorabilia to furnish a man-cave, as well as vaping skills and love for Batman to make a jock and a nerd swoon over his simple charm.
Ingrid Goes West articulates the banality of millennial and Generation Z-ers' online personalities using an approach and lingo they can understand without it coming off as patronizing. It speaks in "likes" and "hits," something that has regularly populated the average conversation between two or more individuals from the respective birth periods - myself included - and nails every detail from the perfect selfie to the vague idea of selecting an appropriate expression for a picture.
The film is so piercingly accurate at times that it becomes as cringeworthy as a bad meme or as awkward as a convo with someone you're not totally cool with, but the one of the strongest notes is how co-writers David Branson Smith and Matt Spicer (the director of the film) go about managing the bigger elements of millennial speech and behavior. In a sense that's neither rote nor sociological, they show how it's become a generation that defines even the most acceptable quality as "the best" or one that tells a secret to one person while immediately contemplating who to tell it to next. It's a spectacular inclusion that doesn't make itself too obvious, but rather, quietly and laudably on-the-nose.
What really needs to be cherished, however, more than any social observations on the banality of what has been condescendingly referred to as "the Instagram generation" is Aubrey Plaza's performance. An actress not easily defined despite a sizable amount of work, Plaza, now 33, has an enigmatic nature about her that is spoken through facial expressions and generation-specific mannerisms (a disgruntled sigh, the strange positioning of her index and middle finger to get the perfect "peace sign" during an impromptu photo with Taylor). She's a gifted actress, hopefully done with unambitious roles in Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates and The To-Do List with intent on focusing on challenging but more rewarding performances in quaint little movies like Ingrid Goes West.
Don't sleep on Elizabeth Olsen or Wyatt Russell either, who finally gets a character outside of the archetypal stoner in the admittedly awesome Everybody Wants Some!!. Olsen, who a week ago had garnered my praise for her brazenly dramatic role in Wind River, ostensibly shifts into fifth gear, playing a vapid social media model until you realize the undertones of her character - a once unpopular, unnoticed teenager that was welcomed with a whirlwind of praise and good fortune practically from the moment she made her Instagram account. Russell, on the other hand, is a low-key but likable portrait of an artist confident enough to plaster an ugly, obtrusive "#SQUADGOALS" moniker over a painted picture of Clydesdale horses but insecure enough to do a little self-promotion.
In efforts to speak its language, in terms of quality and attention to even the most minute feature, Ingrid Goes West is #goals without doing the most. Despite lacking the viciousness necessary for a film like this, it has a pleasantly darker take on the self-indulgent valley-girl mindset that's plaguing various people armed with a smartphone and stable Wi-Fi connection. It also offers a terrifically dark conclusion coming from someone like me who has critiqued films like 47 Meters Down and Baby Driver for ending a bit too positively. I was consistently chuckling and laughing throughout the film, sometimes left with a stupid smirk on my face that even graced my face after I exited the theater with some friends who kindly accompanied me after we took a selfie. Perhaps this film touched a more personal chord than I would've liked; perhaps it needed to.
Steve's Grade: B+