‘In­grid Goes West’

The fear­less Aubrey Plaza ex­plores the haz­ards of a life lived too much on­line


Aubrey Plaza ex­plores the haz­ards of a life lived on so­cial me­dia.

No film has yet cap­tured both the lure and the psy­chosis of so­cial me­dia quite like “In­grid Goes West,” a dark com­edy — or is it a warn­ing? — about a lonely soul who seeks con­nec­tion and finds it, unfortunately for ev­ery­one in her or­bit, on In­sta­gram.

This is the real “Emoji Movie,” a true horror story for our digital times. In the most acutely re­lat­able ways and built around deft turns by Aubrey Plaza and Elizabeth Olsen, it skew­ers how we live and lurk these days in time­lines fraught with an­gled sun­lit self­ies, ar­ti­sanal av­o­cado toasts and the FOMO-froth­ing tor­ment of scrolling com­pul­sively through other peo­ple’s bliss.

Hap­pi­ness is all In­grid Thor­burn (Plaza) re­ally wants, af­ter all. We meet her in di­rec­tor Matt Spicer’s fever­ish open­ing, eyes crazed and soaked over with tears, ma­ni­a­cally ob­sess­ing over pic­ture-perfect posts from a wed­ding she wasn’t in­vited to … from her car parked out­side the venue.

The burst of fren­zied vi­o­lence that fol­lows sends In­grid to the psych ward, where mo­ti­va­tional posters issue twee prom­ises to the lost and search­ing: “Be­lieve you can and you are half­way there.” Back home she re­sumes a drab rou­tine in sub­ur­ban Penn­syl­va­nia, sur­rounded by re­minders of her de­pres­sive iso­la­tion and a re­cent loss.

In an early word­less mon­tage, Spicer and Plaza cap­ture all-too-fa­mil­iar scenes from life in the uniquely 21st cen­tury lan­guage of so­cial me­dia, in which the fine line be­tween on­line con­nec­tion and manic ob­ses­sion is dot­ted with fran­tic feed re­freshes and prayer hands sym­bols.

“In­grid” speaks a di­alect of mod­ern hu­man com­mu­ni­ca­tion fa­mil­iar to any­one who’s spent days and nights glued to a smart­phone, for bet­ter and — more of­ten than we re­al­ize — for worse. And its anti-hero­ine is sim­ply lean­ing into what so­cial cul­ture trum­pets into our brains 24/7: You too can find your tribe, live your best life, get #blessed, and thrive, one per­fectly com­posed pic­ture at a time.

But this rel­a­tively new dou­ble-tap, fave-thirsty ex­is­tence that con­nects us to one an­other, it por­tends, is also the slip­peri­est of slopes. (In an age in which many fear that world lead­ers’ Twit­ter fin­gers could ac­tu­ally turn to nu­clear trig­ger fin­gers, it’s not a ter­ri­ble idea to pause and re­flect on how so­cial me­dia also fu­els our worst im­pulses.)

Os­tra­cized af­ter her re­cent out­burst, In­grid finds her next ob­ses­sion in Tay­lor Sloane (Olsen), a so­cial me­dia “in­flu­encer” whose perfect Cal­i­for­nia boho life she reads about in a fash­ion mag­a­zine. Like mil­lions of search­ing souls be­fore her, she seizes her chance to rein­vent her­self. Us­ing the $60,000 in­surance pay­out from her mother’s death, she sets out to chase her own Amer­i­can dream: be­com­ing Tay­lor’s BFF.

Like a child fig­ur­ing out how to make her­self a sand­wich for the first time, In­grid stuffs her in­her­i­tance into a back­pack and sets out to Los An­ge­les, land­ing a westside ren­tal in Venice with va­p­ing, Bat­man-ob­sessed as­pir­ing screen­writer land­lord Dan (the scene-steal­ing O’Shea Jack­son Jr.).

She copies Tay­lor’s style, where she shops and what she eats us­ing Tay­lor’s geo­tagged posts as her guide, then in­sin­u­ates her­self into her girl crush’s life with dis­turb­ing ease. Us­ing a lit­tle dog-nap­ping to en­gi­neer a meet-cute sit­u­a­tion, In­grid quickly be­comes Tay­lor’s new fa­vorite per­son thanks to their shared love for all the things Tay­lor likes.

Soon enough the pair are road-trip­ping to the desert bliss of Joshua Tree, do­ing coke and danc­ing at Pappy & Harriet’s and belt­ing K-Ci & Jojo’s “All My Life” — the truest ex­pres­sion of friend­ship. The film reaches tense heights as we wait for the Jenga pieces of this “Single White Fe­male” for the so­cial me­dia gen­er­a­tion to come crash­ing down.

Spicer and David Bran­son Smith won the Waldo Salt Screen­writ­ing Award at Sun­dance for their in­ci­sive script, which takes par­tic­u­larly ac­cu­rate aim at the fetishism of en­light­ened liv­ing that per­me­ates L.A., from the ag­gres­sive pos­i­tiv­ity of Café Grat­i­tude — an easy tar­get — to the Joan Did­ion-reading, Venice canal-hop­ping, self-wor­ship­ping van­ity you’ll rec­og­nize from your own so­cial me­dia feeds.

At times we are In­grid, ob­serv­ing with a cocked eye the silly rit­u­als and care­fully cu­rated lives of Tay­lor and her shag­gily charm­ing hus­band, Ezra (Wy­att Rus­sell), a self-de­clared artist fak­ing his way to­ward au­then­tic­ity. “In­grid” is as bru­tal to these bo­hemian posers as it is to its pro­tag­o­nist, who grows in­creas­ingly un­hinged as a third-act jolt in­tro­duces Tay­lor’s brother Nicky (Billy Mag­nussen), a fratty play­boy who sees through In­grid and up­ends her grasp on her own pre­car­i­ously bal­anced cha­rade.

Plaza shines here in her most mul­ti­fac­eted role to date, fear­less in her will­ing­ness to take In­grid to cringe­wor­thy depths with a chameleonic pre­ci­sion. In­grid might be a ly­ing, ma­nip­u­la­tive stalker, but Plaza also lets us see her hu­man­ity, en­gen­der­ing a cru­cial em­pa­thy for the des­per­a­tion that drives her.

The film veers more clum­sily as In­grid wres­tles with clear men­tal health is­sues, both em­pow­ered and en­abled by her new­found In­sta-power. Its con­clu­sion re­minds us In­grid has darker de­mons to battle, even if the film­mak­ers skirt the re­spon­si­bil­ity of ad­dress­ing her ill­ness to make the film’s greater point: In­grid might be a so­cio­pathic selfie-snap­ping an­swer to the tal­ented Mr. Ri­p­ley, but there’s more of her in us than we’d like to ad­mit.


AUBREY PLAZA por­trays the lonely and trou­bled ti­tle char­ac­ter, whose In­sta­gram ob­ses­sion takes a dark turn in “In­grid Goes West.”

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