Aubrey Plaza is disturbingly good as a young woman with a near-fatal case of FOMO in “Ingrid Goes West,” a black comedy that skewers social media culture, and then some. The premise is satirical, but the “feels” are real, because Plaza brings Ingrid so fully to life, even if the entire point of the film is that she is basically dead inside.
When the film opens, we see a series of annoyingly perfect Instagram posts from a beautiful young woman’s wedding. As she gushes, humblebrags and hashtags, our antihero Ingrid scrolls through ever more frantically on her smartphone, “loving” each post even though she’s actually going berserk.
After she storms the wedding, sprays the bride with mace and gets sent to a mental institution, we realize she never actually met the unfortunate, photogenic woman in real life. A single sympathetic online comment following the death of her mother was enough to hook Ingrid into obsession. This window into her loneliness is one of the view clues we get about Ingrid’s impossibly needy inner life.
Having learned nothing during her mental health stay, which is shown in a rather hilariously glib montage, Ingrid hungrily dives back into the virtual world and develops a new obsession: picture-perfect Instagram “influencer” Taylor, played by Elizabeth Olsen.
With a modest inheritance from her recently deceased mother, Ingrid moves to Los Angeles and ingratiates herself deviously into Taylor’s “IRL” life. She fakes a dognapping to meet Taylor and, with shades of “Single White Female,” styles herself to match her. Of course, Taylor is so self-involved that she doesn’t notice; after all, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and as an “influencer” that is the name of the game.
Meanwhile, Ingrid forms a bond, in spite of herself, with her lovable landlord, the only genuine person around for miles, a decent guy who is obsessed with Batman and played by O’Shea Jackson Jr., the irrepressibly charismatic son of Ice Cube who has only otherwise been onscreen portraying his father in “Straight Outta Compton.” He is a normal person with a modicum of concern for Ingrid, and they have chemistry that she, naturally, exploits into furthering her fake lifestyle.
Rosé flows, kimonos are donned and many photos are snapped and filtered, but Ingrid isn’t cool enough for Taylor for long, especially when a more vicious hanger-on arrives in the form of Taylor’s loose-cannon brother. Wily enough to see through her façade and mean enough to exploit her weaknesses, the brother threatens Ingrid’s friendship with Taylor, and Ingrid is willing to go to any lengths to stop him.
The film slips smoothly from black comedy to higher-stakes dysfunction and violence, with a fitting end for one and all. Aubrey Plaza carries this story through amusing, biting satire that is outrageous enough for wry chuckles, but recognizable and dangerous enough that it’s a memorable little film. And when, like I did, you realize you’re using the same phone case that both Taylor and, of course, Ingrid, use, will you feel horror, or gratification?
“Ingrid Goes West” is currently available to rent.
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