Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Matt Spicer
Stars: Aubrey Plaza, Elisabeth Olsen, Wyatt Russell, O’Shea Jackson jr, Billy Magnussen.
Another odd ball and quirky independent film that screened at the Melbourne International Film festival earlier in the year, this is a black comedy that offers a satirical take on the dangers of obsession, social media and the shallow nature of celebrity and fandom. This uncomfortable and disturbing film acts as a cautionary tale about the dangers of living in the virtual world of social media. The debut feature film directorial effort from Matt Spicer, Ingrid Goes West offers a twist on the obsessive stalker genre and seems like a version of Single White Female, The Fan, Fatal Attraction or even Play Misty For Me for the new millennium and a generation addicted to social media and instant gratification.
Ingrid Thorburn (played by Aubrey Plaza, from tv sitcom Parks & Recreation, and Safety Not Guaranteed, etc) is an Instagram addict who seems unable to tell the difference between people she has “liked” on the social media platform and real interpersonal relationships. When we first meet her, she attacks a “friend”for not inviting her to her wedding. But it turns out that the victim was just someone who Ingrid has followed through Instagram. She is committed to treatment in a mental hospital, and when rehabilitated emerges back into the real world.
But she hasn’t changed much, and her life is pretty much still a mess. She becomes obsessed with online personality and minor celebrity Taylor Sloane (Elisabeth Olsen, recently seen in the thriller Wind River, etc), who seemingly has a great life, and begins to stalk her. She is obsessed with everything that Taylor posts on line. Forming an unhealthy fixation, Ingrid uses her inheritance to head west to California, and slowly integrates herself in Taylor’s close circle of acquaintances. Taylor’s husband Ezra (Wyatt Russell) thinks that all technology is bad.
Events come to a head when Ingrid accompanies Taylor on a road trip to Joshua Tree. Taylor’s obnoxious brother Nicky (Billy Magnussen), a recovering drug addict, is suspicious of Ingrid and when he threatens to ruin everything, things take a darker turn into violence and blackmail. Eventually, Nicky convinces Taylor and Ezra to cut Ingrid out of their lives, but she continues to harass them.
A nice subplot centres around her prickly relationship and off-kilter romance that develops with her landlord Dan (played by O’Shea Jackson jr, from Straight Outta Compton, etc), an aspiring writer and comic book fanatic. He can see through her shallow persona and begins to like the real person beneath the surface.
There are two great central performances, particularly from Plaza. Known for her deadpan style of comedy, she is cast against type here as the neurotic and unlikeable Ingrid. She delivers a disarming performance as the needy, insecure and self-centred Ingrid whose irrational interactions with others is a little creepy and unsettling. But somewhat surprisingly she also manages to elicit a measure of sympathy for her lonely and delusional character. Olsen is also good as the vapid, narcissistic pseudo-celebrity who basks in the good life and who exploits her fame. Jackson brings a warmth and charisma to his turn here.
The script, co-written by Spicer and David Branson Smith, won the Waldo Salt screenwriting award at the Sundance Film Festival, and it tackles the issues of the dangers of social media and mental illness head on. The filmmakers maintain a delicate balance between the pathos and the black comedy. But it is ultimately let down by a finale that seems to lack the courage of its convictions in trying to find a happy ending. In the end the film is more sad and unsettling than funny or satirical.