[This is a re-post of my Ingrid Goes West review from the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. The movie opens in limited release on Friday, August 11th.]
The rise of social media has made us at once closer as a human race, and yet more disconnected. We’re able to reach out via text to close friends, acquaintances, and even strangers, and as social media branched out to services like Instagram and Four Square, we could even see where and what people were doing at any given moment. But is this connection tangible? If all of our own social media feeds are carefully curated, aren’t we just presenting a façade, and thus fostering less-than-truthful versions of ourselves? This is put to the test in filmmaker Matt Spicer’s feature debut Ingrid Goes West, which finds Aubrey Plaza entering into a Talented Mr. Ripley-like relationship with an Instagram celebrity she worships, played by Elizabeth Olsen. The film is hilarious, biting, and surprisingly moving, and while it takes a few narrative turns toward the end that don’t entirely hit, it digs deeper and hits harder than expected.
Plaza plays Ingrid, a lonely unstable young woman who, after a spurred relationship with a friend, finds a new obsession: Instagram “lifestyle guru” Taylor Sloane (Olsen). After poring over Sloane’s Instagram feed, which is chock-full of emojis, spontaneously staged selfies, and not-so-subtle ads for her favorite brands, Ingrid decides to reinvent her social media imprint and move out to Los Angeles to become Taylor’s best friend.
Ingrid finds a morally questionable way to elbow herself into Taylor’s life, and the two become fast friends. Wyatt Russell plays Taylor’s husband, an artist who slaps hashtags over landscape paintings, and who also takes a liking to Ingrid. She sets about making sure she doesn’t let her façade break, but these plans are put into danger, when Taylor’s boisterous, loud-mouthed, bully of a brother Nicky (Billy Magnussen) comes into town and begins to see through Ingrid’s tailor-made veneer.
Oftentimes with comedies that premiere at Sundance, the film barrels through its promising premise by the end of the first act and runs on fumes for the remainder of the runtime. Ingrid Goes West is surprisingly tight from a narrative perspective, with Spicer and co-writer David Branson Smith’s script refusing to meander or spin its wheels. The story progresses in a compelling and engaging manner, with a few surprises along the way. Spicer proves to be an adept talent behind the camera as well, as he and cinematographer Bryce Fortner offer up a dynamic, colorful aesthetic that stands out from the pack of muted dramedies. There’s a purpose and motivation for the camera set-ups while Fortner also takes the time to compose some truly gorgeous frames—all in the name of buoying Taylor’s seemingly perfect life.
As for the performances, Plaza is incredible in the lead role as Ingrid. She could have easily just gone super weird or broad with the character, offering up some laughs but little insight. Instead, Plaza wholly inhabits this mentally unstable woman but also layers the performance with shades of sadness and empathy, which go a long way towards making Ingrid watchable as she immerses herself into increasingly questionable actions. Olsen, meanwhile, nails the “lifestyle guru” type while refusing to settle into a caricature or, again, broad performance. It’s a testament to Spicer’s direction that he ignores the easy laughs in favor of shading these performances with layers, making the story all the more emotionally involving. Ridiculous things happen, but you (mostly) buy them because you buy these characters as people.