You’ve seen the photos on Instagram: The perfect plate of tuna tartare, then immaculately framed “candid” shot at the top of a craggy mountain ridge, the sunrise over Maui so stunning it makes you want to barf. The corporate world has a term for these people, “influencers.” What are they influencing exactly? Typing that makes me feel like Matt Damon transforming into his old self at the end of Saving Private Ryan. The entire nature of the enterprise is smug and cynical but to deny their existence in a marketing portfolio is to have your head in the sand. Influencers have reach and reach equals eyeballs, eyeballs attached to wallets.
You can dress up any hiking photo with a bullshit quote and a filter but when 45,000 likes see your Patagonia jacket and most of the comments below it are fawning over the manufactured beauty before someone says something racist than you might just have something. So, with influencers running wild on our social feeds it’s high time a film like Ingrid Goes West is released, a film that often has more in common with Taxi Driver than would initially meet the eye.
Aubrey Plaza is Ingrid – a potential sociopath who rarely looks up from her phone. The film introduces us at a horrifying low point when Ingrid, face runny with snot and tears, crashes a wedding she wasn’t invited to. After berating the bride, pepper spraying her and being rugby tackled by the wedding party Ingrid is more ostracized that ever. Without normal, human interaction she turns where else? Her Instagram feed.
After days of lazing around the house, liking and commenting, she comes across the influencer feed of Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen) – a beautiful SoCal blonde with an idyllic trail of outdoor photos, dinners with her husband Ezra (Wyatt Russell,) and wry-winking selfies. Soon, Ingrid is all in – commenting on her favorite posts, researching Taylor and generally building a very well-developed stalker portfolio. When Taylor actually responds to one of Ingrid’s comments she takes it a tad too literally and packs up her belongings and moves west to befriend her internet soulmate.
While this setup sounds like it could be a wacky farce or potentially something darker, Director Matt Spicer plays things deftly down the middle. This is a very perceptive and funny film. It doesn’t shy away from taking not-so-subtle jabs at the artifice of Southern California or social media in general but also takes the time to understand the cracks in the façade. Ingrid is a fissure in the earth meant to not only disturb her new friends but also help them release the pressure an influencer must feel to always be “on.”
One standout character is Dan played by O’Shea Jackson Jr (Straight Outta Compton.) Dan is the first person Ingrid meets when she offers to pay cash to live in his rental. Dan loves smoking weed and initially introduces himself as a screenwriter, developing a new take on Batman. All of this is stuff of Hollywood cliché but Spicer uses it as a way to deepen our respect and admiration for Dan even though the dude just really loves Batman and grass. Combine the strong writing with Jackson Jr’s very warm and funny performance and you have the essence of Ingrid Goes West.
Of course, none of this works without the exemplary work of Aubrey Plaza – best known for her now legendary role as April Ludgate on Parks & Recreation. This is Plaza’s best performance to date and is an incredible display of her ability to subvert audience expectations and provide a funny, sympathetic yet twisted take on Ingrid.
And kudos to first-time Director Matt Spicer and his assured vision for Ingrid Goes West. This is a timely take on an industry and rabidly growing culture that deserves this kind of unblinking skewering. His steady hand allows Ingrid’s brain to unravel giving us an honest depiction of the feeds we hold so dear. As guilty as I and so many others are of rarely lifting our heads from our device it’s nice to be slapped across the face every now and again and reminded what a crock of shit it all is.