Sundance Review: INGRID GOES WEST

Plaza’s near perfect in this blackest of comedies.

It’s been creeping up for a while now, but it seems 2017 is the year that Aubrey Plaza firmly establishes herself not simply as a famous TV actor and star of quirky indie dramadies but as a producer at the forefront of the current scene. With back-to-back premieres she’s also showing off her versatility, helping guide two very different films along their way.

The strange and surreal film The Little Hours showcased her as a penis-sniffing nun, and her performance in Ingrid Goes West does have more than its share of transgressive humour as well. Yet with her take as Ingrid there’s perhaps no role that better showcases Plaza’s range. Practically every scene, the film rests upon her shoulders, and so much of its charm is directly attributable to how committed she is to this portrayal.

As surreal, seductive, psychotic Ingrid, Plaza provides a performance that easily could have been grating or single-noted. Instead we are drawn into her world, riding along with her mad schemes, wanting her sociopathic machinations to somehow work out in the end. Ingrid is a woman that simply cares too much, looking obsessively to Instagram to find fulfilling emotional connections. We meet her as she storms into a wedding in order to pepper spray the bride who had the temerity to not invite a social-media follower to join in for the big day. Ingrid, we soon see, isn’t too much into boundaries.

After a stint at an asylum Ingrid finds the account of Taylor Sloan (Elizabeth Olsen) who seems to be living the perfect life of Avocado toast, fancy clutches and days at sandy beaches. Taking her inheritance out in cash, Ingrid heads to California in order to become part of this world seen one tagged photo at a time.

After renting an apartment from Batman aficionado Dan Pinto (O’Shea Jackson), Ingrid soon inserts herself into Sloan’s magical, superficial world. From here a film of great emotional shifts emerges, from Dan’s sweet if awkward ways to Ingrid’s mix of hapless adventuring to downright evil machinations. Yet thanks to Plaza’s sardonic take we’re engrossed in the way it all plays out, not feeling too sorry for the shallow, vainglorious Los Angelinos that Ingrid looks up to. 

The film’s swings in tone could easily have faltered, but first time helmer Matt Spicer (who co-wrote the script with David Branson Smith) manages to keep things settled as events become more and more chaotic. Olsen is fabulously plastic as Sloane, while her brother Nicky (Billy Magnussen) plays appalling and smarmy with exceptional acuity. Yet apart from Plaza the real charmer of the ensemble is Jackson. The actor received plenty of attention justifiably for his role in Straight Outta Compton, yet some may simply pigeonhole his range as he was portraying his father, seeing the actor as locked into a particular genre. Ingrid Jackson plays goofy, strong, sweet and silly in equal measure, providing such a charming take that it feels like the real beginning of a rich and varied career.

The film is a sun-dappled California take on the kind of manic extravagances that Scorsese helmed in the '70s and '80s. There’s a lot of Rupert Pupkin in Ingrid, yet while The King Of Comedy may be an explicit allusion there’s also plenty of Taxi Driver’s Travis Bickle in the way Ingrid’s ending toys with moral ambivalence and the cleansing nature of fame. This makes it all the more remarkable that such dark and complex ideas are entwined within a superficially comedic take on L.A. and social media culture.

The blackest of dark comedies mixed with plenty of drama along the way, buttressed by a fine ensemble and led by a remarkable lead turn by Plaza, Ingrid Goes West is one of those weird, creepy, unsettling films about obsessions that you just can’t help but become a little bit obsessed about yourself.