James Rosario is a writer, filmmaker, and musician based in the Asheville, NC area. His record label, Bigger Boat Records, releases...
Ingrid Goes West (2017)
Directed by Matt Spicer
Reviewed by James Rosario on August 25, 2017
At its core, Matt Spicer’s Ingrid Goes West is about identity, or maybe more accurately, the lack thereof. Most of his, and co-writer David Branson Smith’s characters are phonies. They live fake, vapid, self-centered lives—lives that Holden Caulfield would have a field day with. They are quintessential California sell-outs, but the difference between them and Holden’s brother, D.B., is that these folks are essentially talentless, and moochers to boot. Personally, I find this privileged, care free, “bohemian” lifestyle somewhat nauseating, and from the way Spicer treats his subjects, so does he.
Ingrid (an always great Aubrey Plaza) is fresh off a stint at a mental facility after suffering an Instagram fueled breakdown (she confuses “likes” with actual, real-life shared moments, which gets her in a bit of trouble). After her hospital stay, she’s soon back on her phone, and finds a new potential best friend in one Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen), an Instagram “influencer” (it’s a real thing, I had to look it up) who lives in California. With cash from her recently deceased mother’s insurance policy, she's off to the west coast to start her new life, with her new BFF that she’s never met.
In short, Ingrid is a stalker, and possibly a delusional one at that.
Somehow, though, she’s likable enough, and soon she creates a situation in which Taylor and her husband, Ezra (Wyatt Russell), are ingratiated to her, thus allowing her into their circle. To us, the viewer, Taylor and Ezra’s #perfect lives are shallow and materialistic, full of faux-intellectualism and hashtags, but to Ingrid, each other, and their social media followers, the world may as well revolve around them.
The only grounded character in the film is Dan (O’Shea Jackson Jr.), Ingrid’s landlord. His dreams may be lofty and far-fetched, but at least they’re of his own design. Add to the mix the arrival of Taylor’s bully of a brother, Nicky (a perfectly detestable Billy Magnussen), and you have the beginnings of Ingrid’s inevitable undoing.
This undoing is also where the film strays some. Up to this point, what we have is a fun, albeit darkly skewed, comedy about the nature of identity and human interaction. It’s wacky, but it’s largely believable—at least in the world that’s been created. The eventual unraveling of Ingrid’s plan, for a moment, goes a bit too far to the absurd. Dan’s character development doesn’t quite match up with what Ingrid gets him to do. This is forgivable, however, simply because it’s short-lived, and, more importantly, it doesn’t end in the way these types of films usually end. Ingrid still spirals into deeper and deeper darkness, but not quite as deep and as dark as you might predict. Nicky directly references Single White Female (1992), and if you’ve ever seen that film, you would too, but as much professional help as she likely needs, Ingrid never devolves that far.
On a formal level, I was surprised at the level of care Ingrid was given. Going in, I wouldn’t have been surprised to find myself watching some sort of shaky-cam, hip, indie, mumblecore, black comedy, but, that’s not what Ingrid is. The black comedy is there, sure, but the camera work and dialogue are surprisingly reserved for a film about this specific age group.
What strikes me most, though, is the ending. This isn’t necessarily a spoiler (you’ve been warned, just in case), but, that nobody seems to have learned anything at all from the mistakes they’ve made is particularly fascinating to me. 2011’s Young Adult had a similar ending, in which the main character’s bad behavior is completely validated by an admirer. In Ingrid’s case, new identities are formed and the delusion continues, likely over and over again.
Maybe I’m old fashioned, but I’ve examined my online persona vs. my real-life one, and I think they match up pretty accurately. How does yours? I think that’s what Spicer is getting at here: real identities vs. projected ones.
Ingrid Goes West starts Friday, August 25, 2017 at GRAIL MOVIEHOUSE and CAROLINA CINEMARK.
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