Ingrid Goes West is written and directed by indie newcomer Matt Spicer (It’s You, Not Me) and produced by the film’s star Aubrey Plaza. I must preface by stating that this film unequivocally belongs to Aubrey Plaza and the rest are simply blips within the scope of the film. But let’s talk about some of those said blips, shall we?
The film follows mentally unstable Ingrid (Plaza) subsequent to the death of her mother and other ‘next-level-cringe’ events. She finds solace in the online world of Instagram, zeroing in on online personality Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen) and her perfectly curated life. Ingrid’s plight to emulate the perfect ‘insta-life’ which she sees online brings her to California and far, far away from reality.
This film emulates Instagram in a number of ways, probably most effectively though the use of lighting and colour. Each scene is distinctly curated as if a specific filter were applied, without feeling like an overlay or afterthought, seeing Ingrid’s vision of a curated world come to life.
Ingrid Goes West bridges comedy and dramatic genres, but seems quite indecisive with regard to having it both ways. In other films which emulate these genres, the comedy comes with an accompanying sense of relief from the discomfort of dramatic tension. This film, however, offers no such relief. Personally, it felt almost irksome to laugh at some of the jokes, especially when Ingrid was in such a dark, destructive place with nobody to help her. I felt as though I needed a moment to either laugh or cry whilst watching this film, but no such pathos was offered and I was left unsure of what it all meant. Irritatingly, I believe that it could have been possible to allow a closer, more emotionally driven look into Ingrid’s journey, but the execution wasn’t quite right.
That being said, the most humorous element for me was the interweaving of narration which is integrated with the intercutting to Instagram posts. It works to parody so many real-life Insta-fools who end all posts and comments with the prayer hands emoji.
I really enjoyed the performance of Elizabeth Olsen who is fantastic in the role of a postmodern mean girl acting out every high school weirdo’s nightmare. O’Shae Jackson Jr. appears as Ingrid’s Batman-obsessed love interest and I couldn’t help but completely root for him throughout the film.
I truly was enjoying this film until they introduced the character of Taylor’s brother (Billy Magnussen) halfway through the film. I understand the intent of the filmmaker in introducing this character as a third party who can call Ingrid out – something which needs to happen to further drive the plot. However, I found his characterisation and performance to be entirely out of step with the first half of the film which I had taken in. Moreover, I believe that there are more interesting ways to further conflict than introducing a stereotypically toxic, intimidating and douchey guy to the mix of nuanced, entertaining characters. Moreover, Magnussen’s performance literally took up every scene that he was in, entirely distracting from Ingrid’s progression and the slowly-built plot.
All of this is (almost) entirely redeemed by Aubrey Plaza’s impressive performance. Every part of her performance is layered and nuanced, with the rest of the film clearly working around it. She is gorgeous and ugly, feeble and terrifying, and so, so funny. There is so much going on with her performance, as she has clearly won her crown of queen of the dead eye. I truly believe that she was the hardest worker on this set and that the filmmaker took a back seat, hoping that her performance would do all of the work. And it (almost) did. I must also point out that Aubrey Plaza is clearly having a moment between this and her incredible performance in Legion last year.
I know that this film was clearly for me, so why didn’t I enjoy it more? I have come to the conclusion that I really loved the first half of the film, because that was the film which I committed to watching, not the intimidating, disappointing muddle which it turned into. Unfortunately, Aubrey can’t save it all. Prayer hands emoji.