Disclosure: Tim League owns part of NEON and Birth.Movies.Death.
More and more we're starting to see unlikable characters as protagonists in films. It can be a difficult balancing act, particularly when the star of your film has made a career out of making awful characteristics hilarious. Ingrid Goes West seems to have managed to fit that bill. Star and producer Aubrey Plaza disappears into the crazed lead, and as a result gives us a unique look into the world of social media obsession.
Here's what critics around the web are saying about the relatably awkward film.
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.
"Ingrid Goes West" is a biting expose on How We Live Now: sitting on our phones, rote scrolling through someone else's online life, clicking "Hearts" without even taking a moment to absorb the image. The film lampoons stuff that didn't even exist 10 years ago but has now become such a part of our everyday lives that no one takes a second to consider the potential negative effects. If everything is public, then where is the Self? Is turning yourself into a "brand" really a good idea? If you don't take a picture of it and - crucially - share it with the world, did it really happen?
The opening scene of Ingrid Goes West - which involves Aubrey Plaza’s Ingrid spraying a bride with mace on her wedding day for not inviting her, despite having only ever conversed once on an Instagram comments section - doesn’t hesitate in introducing its themes of obsession and loneliness either. What follows is an increasingly uncomfortable spiral into madness and depression, as Ingrid is released from a mental hospital and quickly decides to move to California and “meet up” with an Instagram celebrity she follows, named Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen).
Shiny pop satire with a humming undercurrent of existential dread, Ingrid Goes West is a clever, corrosive little trick of a movie, a neon candy heart dipped in asbestos. Aubrey Plaza stars as a woman on the verge of a social-media breakdown; unhinged by real-time images of an acquaintance’s wedding that rudely excludes her, she shows up to the reception in sweatpants and pepper-sprays the bride. After an indeterminate stint in a psychiatric ward, her spirit is revived by a fresh obsession: Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen), an Instagram goddess living the impossibly photogenic California dream of avocado toast, Navajo ponchos, and backyard rosé. Armed with a small inheritance, Ingrid follows her manifest destiny out to Los Angeles, determined to befriend Taylor or bust.
Social media is destroying our lives – but what if it's not? What if a digital imitation of life is all we can generate? That's the main idea that courses through Ingrid Goes West, a pitch-black comedy that dances around its central theme without ever facing it head on. But oh, the demented, delicious mischief it kicks up.
Even though it may disappoint on its original promise, Ingrid packs an impressive helping of emotional resonance, not to mention no shortage of delightfully sinister humor about social media, youth culture, and loneliness. Oh, and Batman. I really cannot stress enough how many jokes about Batman there are in this movie.
All Ingrid Thorburn wants is friends, and the only way she knows to make them is online, via apps such as Instagram, where the word has been rendered meaningless. Ingrid’s strategy is to identify the most fabulous person she can — judged via the carefully curated moments they choose to share with the world — and hope that cozying up to them in real life will make some of that happiness rub off on her. Its tragic, of course, but also relatable in an environment in which people judge their self-worth in “likes,” while coveting the clothes, meals, and grass-is-greener lifestyles of those who populate their feeds.
Plaza disappears into the unhinged Ingrid, a character exciting in her sheer unlikeability. She lies and steals to get what she wants. She exploits trust and kindness. But she brims with a deep human fear of inadequacy, one she hopes internet popularity might remedy. Plaza brings a vulnerability and desperation to Ingrid that makes her relatable. She’s obsessive and unstable, but she just wants to be liked, online or anywhere.
Portraying the pull of social media can be tricky, but director Matt Spicer manages to convey just what it’s like to be 80-weeks deep in your crush’s selfies at 3 a.m. Plaza, who is also a producer on the film, is terrific, oscillating between greasy-haired depression and jittery please-like-me obsession. O’Shea Jackson Jr. (Straight Outta Compton) is also delightful as Ingrid’s Batman-obsessed landlord. Some threads of the story get lost; the last third is weak, and Jackson’s story gets short shrift. Although it never quite reaches Single White Female heights, Ingrid Goes West is an entertaining look at how social media allows us all to remake ourselves – at a cost.
In satirizing Taylor Sloane’s pretty, empty, commercial life, Ingrid Goes West points a finger at the proximity of silicon valley and venture capitalism to domestic aesthetics. Taylor calls herself “a photographer,” but she swaps IG posts for money from brands, which is not the same thing. Her husband, the bearded Ezra, hates her social media practice but the movie strongly implies that he resents her power and success more than he actually wishes for a more authentic life. He makes terrible art superimposing phrases like SQUAD GOALS over paintings of horses.
Ingrid Goes West hits theaters everywhere August 25th! Get your tickets here.