Ingrid Goes West

Ingrid Goes West is a predictable, but occasionally incisive examination of the superficiality of Instagram semi-situated in the context of mental illness. It’s timely and relevant, given the increasing number of studies coming out that show the connection between social media use and depression in young users.

The titular character, played by deadpan dame Aubrey Plaza, is definitely depressed — her mom, who was Ingrid’s sole friend, recently passed away — but she’s also more unhinged than those of us who recognize some of her toxic behaviours: numbingly scrolling through Instagram and liking every single photo, experiencing FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), cyberstalking a “social influencer,” mace-ing a bride in the face.

OK, maybe that last one is a bit much. Nonetheless, that’s how Ingrid Goes West begins: our psychotic protagonist crashes her obsession’s wedding, seeking revenge for not being invited. This happens only seconds before we see her “liking” the wedding photos on Instagram, a quick commentary on the way that social media has conditioned us to both support online friends’ curation of their “perfect” lives through tiny gestures of pixelated social approval, and the FOMO/envy/hatred that it simultaneously can create in the viewer. As we find out later, Ingrid didn’t even know the bride — she was merely one of her thousands of fans.

Following a brief, unhelpful stint in a mental institution, Ingrid restarts her life in L.A., a destination she chooses after finding a new blonde, beautiful, future BFF in Elle magazine: Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen), a social influencer whose Instagram feed will look familiar to anyone who’s used the platform: that once-rarefied, airy boho-chic aesthetic, consisting of succulents and rose-gold accessories, with the hashtag #blessed used unironically to humblebrag about overpriced avocado toast. Taylor is not a real person — she’s used her coveted looks and wardrobe to garner a gazillion followers and photography career to support both her and her artist-husband Ezra (Wyatt Russell) in a glamorous city.

With $60,000 in life-insurance money from her mom’s death, Ingrid goes west to engineer her way into Taylor’s social circle, stalking her Instagram to find the same stores so she can look like a cheap knock-off of her obsession. Ingrid also finds a landlord, semi-boyfriend and sole true friend in Dan (O’Shea Jackson Jr.), who boasts a geeky but contrastingly harmless interest in Batman.

Rounding out the cast is Taylor’s wild, wacky brother Nick (Billy Magnussen), whom Ingrid suspects as untrustworthy from the get-go, and it’s only a matter of time before the two flesh out the drama of this fairly predictable film that’s two parts Single White Female, three parts The King of Comedy and one part Enlightened. Plaza nails the dead-eyed emptiness of a character whose desperate lack of identity is clearly some kind of undiagnosed borderline personality disorder. But she’s not just an empty shell, either. Ingrid is astutely written as relatable, and given several key moments of dialogue when she or other characters feel safe enough to show their vulnerability, a welcome respite from the fakeness of it all.

Jackson, whose charisma is apparent in every scene, also adds an element of much-needed grounded reality to the film. This contrast of types makes Ingrid Goes West a quick and somewhat effective character study, but also one that would have benefited from more time (both in workshopping the material, and in additional screen-time) to carve out emotionally resonant moments that go beyond the all-too-recognizable FOMO.

This may be a movie about shallowness, but director and co-writer Matt Spicer could have done more to make it deeply moving.

Originally published in The National Post (August 18, 2017).