Ingrid Goes West, the first feature length directing effort by Matt Spicer, is a biting commentary about social media and celebrity obsession. Think of it as Single White Female for the smart phone generation. The script by Spicer and David Branson Smith, winner of the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at the Sundance Film Festival, succeeds in balancing sharp witted satire of our plugged in culture and the consequences that come from defining self worth by the number of "followers" and "likes" that make up our online presence.
BUT, and this is a big but, all of the good will Ingrid Goes West builds up over 96 minutes of its run time is nearly relinquished in the final minute with a creative choice I found to be both unfortunate and in some ways, dangerous. More on that in a bit....
Ingrid Thorburn (Aubrey Plaza) exists in a bubble. We learn early on that her self worth is defined by the faux relationships she navigates with various social media trendsetters and influencers. When she latches onto Instagram socialite Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen), she makes some radical life adjustments - moving to LA, changing her hairstyle and wardrobe - in order to become a part of Taylor's inner circle. She concocts a rather disturbing strategy to meet Taylor, but it works, and the bulk of the ensuing narrative revels in the highs and lows of social media obsession and just how thin a line exists between the two.
What I Liked
- I've always appreciated Olsen and Plaza as actresses. A lot of their work has been under the radar and relegated to quirky indies, although Olsen pops up as a bit player in a blockbuster on occasion. While Olsen is good, I believe this is Plaza's best work to date. She's the queen of mope and the eye roll; something she brings to a lot of her characters, but she steps outside of that preconception here and gives a performance that is believable in both its honesty and tragedy. She finds balance between the vulnerability of a person with a mental illness and how existing with that illness is perceived by the people she surrounds herself with.
- Though short on laugh out loud moments, there is a lot of subtle humor throughout the film. Most of the time, the comedy avoids stepping on the toes of the larger themes on display. There is a lot of dark humor, much of it actually disturbing and awkward, but it rarely feels cheap. Many of the scenes involving Ingrid's landlord and neighbor Dan Pinto (O'Shea Jackson Jr.) stand out. Jackson Jr. has many of the same visual mannerisms that make his father (Ice Cube) successful in comedy roles. Jackson and Plaza riff off each other easily, and when their relationship evolves over the course of the film, it feels mostly earned.
- Mental illness still carries an unfortunate stigma in our world. I'm glad these filmmakers found a way to shine a light on the subject without making a farce of it. That isn't an easy road to hoe in a comedy. The writing allows for the characters to breath and explore interpersonal dynamics within a society obsessed with hot trends and fake celebrities. We get to witness a person who struggles to find an identity within this society, and how that person will eventually live or die by that hand. Using the backdrop of social media is timely and relatable, and serves as a perfect cautionary tale with our smart device obsessions.
What I Didn't Like (Spoilers Ahead)
- I was more than ready to drop a nice four out of five stars on Ingrid Goes West. Though not everything worked perfectly, I was never bored and appreciated what the filmmakers were trying to do. THEN, the final scene happened, and all of that good will evaporated in an instant. I mentioned how the film finds a nice balance between showing a person with a mental illness and never venturing to cheapen the experience. It never does, BUT, if you are going to take that theme to its darkest place, please be prepared to see it through to the end. In the film's final moments, after Ingrid's social experiments have completely unravelled her, she attempts suicide, leaving a farewell message to all of the followers she gained while in the good graces of Taylor's inner circle. Let me say that again....Ingrid. Attempts. Suicide. Though she ultimately fails (her legions of followers alert the proper authorities in time to save her), she awakens in a hospital bed, confused and alone. When Dan Pinto arrives to see her, he quickly alerts her to all of the notices she's received on her social media pages, wishing her good will. The final shot, one of Ingrid scrolling through her timeline, a widening grin overtaking her face, is meant to be a happy ending. What it really does is paint a rosy picture of a girl that was so disturbed she attempted to take her life, but ends up satisfied because she has finally become the center of attention on social media that she has always craved. So, there's the answer kids...do something extreme like try suicide and you too can become a star. Are you kidding me? By rolling the credits here, the filmmakers have glamorized suicide as a means to success. No discussion. No repercussions. Just try to off yourself and watch the Instagram feed fill up with all of the love. This is a creative decision that is reckless and dangerous, and I shudder to think that some vulnerable kid is watching this and might come away with the wrong idea. This was the wrong way to end the film. I'm all for pushing the envelope and shinning spotlights into dark corners, but leaving out a discussion involving consequences is just poor form.
Think twice about taking your smart phone obsessed kids to see this if you think they are vulnerable to the influences of others they deem cool on the Internet. Discuss the ending with your family, since the film can't be bothered to do so. There is plenty to like about Ingrid Goes West, and literally ninety-nine percent of it works. But that other one percent really deflates much of the good will earned up to that point, and I'm shocked no one else is really talking about it.
2 out of 5