Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
The various social media platforms serve varying purposes: Facebook is the means to tell everyone how perfect your life is. Pinterest provides major dream-board “inspo.” And Instagram is for curating your life in photographs with quippy captions and witty hashtags. It’s how you sell your “brand” to the world. There’s no better feature than director Matt Spicer’s INGRID GOES WEST to seize on the insufferableness of our cultural trends, telling an intelligent tale with razor-sharp wisdom and hilarious wit. A second-cousin-related twist on TALENTED MR. RIPLEY for the social media era, the pitch-black dramedy skewers LA lifestyle and the vampiric nature of wannabe popularity.
Ingrid Thorburn (Aubrey Plaza) had a mental breakdown after the death of her mom and the breakup of an obsessive friendship. Grief has eclipsed her life, leading to a lonely new form of existence. However, a connection with strangers is always just a click away on Instagram. Desperate for friendship and flush with cash, Ingrid high tails it to California hoping to shoe-horn herself into the life of social-media-influencer Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen). Taylor is everything Ingrid isn’t: perfect, glamorous and married to artist Ezra (Wyatt Russell), who paints over motel art with popular hashtags. As Ingrid slyly SINGLE WHITE FEMALE-s Taylor, copying her appearance, wardrobe and eating habits, she begins to make an actual friend out of Taylor. She also gains a sweet, caring boyfriend – her Batman-obsessed landlord Dan Pinto (O’Shea Jackson Jr.). Everything goes swimmingly until Taylor’s flighty, obnoxious brother Nicky (Billy Magnussen) comes to visit and threatens to ruin everything.
Spicer and David Branson Smith’s script lampoons L.A.’s eccentricities in astute ways. From the avocado toast post, to the trips to hipster haven Joshua Tree, to the cafe that asks customers wildly intrusive questions like “What’s your biggest emotional wound,” the pair nail Tinseltown’s superficiality, fakeness and health consciousness. The filmmakers hold up a mirror to society’s dependence on social media for connection, and they do so in a comedic, subversive manner. There are a few shots where the background action includes extras buried in their smartphones. Taylor’s narration (which sounds both kind and condescending all at once) on her Instagram posts, reading aloud her photo captions and vapid hashtags is ingenious. Plus, there’s a standout sequence set to K-Ci & JoJo’s “All My Life” that will have you in stitches.
Perhaps what really seals the deal are the authentic, layered performances by the entire ensemble – even douchey Nicky, who comes off as a more grounded Freddie Miles 2.0 thanks to Magnussen’s skills. Plaza turns in the best work we’ve seen from her, filling her character with vulnerability, sultriness and nuance. She’s likable and despicable (granted for totally understandable reasons) all at once. Olsen is the quintessential California girl-next-door: you want to dislike her, but you’re magnetized by her sunshine-effused glow. Jackson Jr. is perfect as the tough but loveable boyfriend; under that intimidating, inherited glare lies a teddy bear. To see him tap into that feels like a cinematic treat.
Despite my lone gripe of the ending feeling a tad too abrupt, INGRID GOES WEST is something to head out to see. A word of warning, though: You might feel creepy about getting on social media to talk about your love of this film afterward.
INGRID GOES WEST opens on August 11.