It’s a wonderful feeling to be surprised by a movie. Sometimes it can be because it ended up better than you expected, or tackled a topic that wasn’t really marketed, or even just putting an actor that you’re familiar with in a different light. Because it’s easy to fall into a feeling that you’ve seen everything, and that movies don’t have anything left to shock you. But then sometimes you head into a theater and get genuinely shocked by what you see. Even if you went in with high hopes. Which is what happened when I went to go see Ingrid Goes West. I’d heard about this movie for a while, and everything I saw of it seemed like it was going to be an absolute delight. I love the shockingly strange career decisions that Aubrey Plaza has been making the last couple of years, and seeing her headline a movie was always going to get me interested. But then the trailers for this film started coming out, and it looked like we were going to get a hilariously dark satire about social media and the people who devote so much of their lives to digital avatars. Increasingly our world is being dominated by how we interact with each other over the internet, and less how we interact in person, and the idea of a twisted look at that world seemed like it was going to be a very timely and enjoyable story. Unfortunately, that’s not really what this movie ended up being. There was plenty of knocks and gags at the expense of social media, but they weren’t as fresh or interesting as I was hoping. But, fortunately, there was a lot more going on in this movie that I had expected, and it ended up saving an otherwise kind of tired story.
Ingrid Goes West tells the story of a mentally unstable young woman named Ingrid. She has recently lost her mother, and seemingly only friend, and after stalking and attacking a classmate at her own wedding Ingrid is sent to a mental hospital to get herself feeling right. She eventually leaves the hospital, and after learning she’s inherited some money from her mother, she decides to leave her home and go start a new life. And, while flipping through a magazine, she learns about Taylor. Taylor is a social media gadfly who has built a life on endorsing products and letting the world enjoy her tastes. And Ingrid thinks her life sounds fascinating. So, Ingrid does some stalking and finds that she lives in Los Angeles, and decides to move there. She quickly finds an apartment rented out by a struggling screenwriter who is obsessed with Batman named Dan Pinto, and makes plans to befriend Taylor. Ingrid has decided that the only way to give her life meaning is to become exactly like Taylor, so she starts eating at the same places, wearing the same, clothes, and shopping at the same boutiques, just hoping to stumble upon Taylor. And, when that doesn’t happen, she decides to escalate things, and ends up kidnapping Taylor’s dog. This plan actually ends up working, because when Taylor and her husband Ezra post a reward for the dog Ingrid is able to make herself the hero, and bring the dog to them. And, just like that, she has an opening. Ingrid brings the dog to Taylor and Ezra, and ends up having a lovely evening with them, while she compiles as much information about them as possible.
But one single dinner isn’t enough for Ingrid, and since she’s able to be charming for a night she ends up making plans to take Taylor up to her second-home in Joshua Tree. This does require borrowing Dan’s truck, but he appears to be infatuated with Ingrid so that’s pretty easy. Ingrid and Taylor then go up to her cabin, and end up having a terrific time together, even though they do mess the car up pretty bad, and screw over Dan. But Ingrid has accomplished her goal. She’s established a friendship with Taylor, and over the coming weeks the two get closer and close. Until Nicky shows up. Nicky is Taylor’s fuck-up brother, and when he randomly shows up at Taylor and Ezra’s house to crash with them, things start to fall apart. Nicky is instantly suspicious of Ingrid, and easily gets all of Taylor’s attention. Ingrid tries to fix things by seducing Dan and having him become her boyfriend so that she can double-date with Taylor and Ezra, but Nicky just keeps showing up. And things really fall apart when Nicky gets a hold of Ingrid’s phone, and realizes how insane she is. he finds the photos of Taylor, the obsessive notes, and all of the lies she’s been telling her. Nicky then blackmails Ingrid, demanding money in exchange for letting Ingrid’s secrets remain secret. So, Ingrid has no choice but to convince Dan to help her kidnap and threaten Nicky. They abduct him, take him out to the desert, and attack him. Unfortunately, Nicky gets the best of Dan and beats him. Ingrid has no choice but to take Dan to the hospital, when she gets a call from Ezra telling her that Nicky told them everything. Ingrid’s life then falls apart, and he ends up leaving Dan alone at the hospital to start stalking Taylor as much as possible. She ends up buying a home near their Joshua Tree home to be close to them, until she’s eventually caught. Taylor then has to shatter Ingrid’s heart, telling how insane she is, and that she never wants to see her again. So, seeing no other alternative, Ingrid tries to kill herself, while live-streaming on Instagram. But she doesn’t die. Because Dan found the video, and managed to get help to Ingrid in time. Oh, and her video has gone viral, making Ingrid an internet celebrity, with thousands of people supporting her, and seeing her as some sort of role model.
Overall I really enjoyed this film. It wasn’t quite what I was expecting, but I ended up being pleasantly surprised with this film. Aubrey Plaza is absolutely delightful as Ingrid, and really nails the creepy stalker role. But, what I was kind of surprised at, was how well she managed to get to the deeper side of Ingrid. I never thought Aubrey Plaza was a bad actress, or anything like that, but I never would have thought she had it in her. That ending, and the speech she gives as she’s preparing to kill herself is some incredibly weighty and emotional stuff. Elizabeth Olson is also terrific, perfectly personifying the ultimately shallow Taylor, while also succeeding in not just making her a villain. Taylor easily could have been a vapid character, not caring about anything other than herself. And while that’s kind of true, they managed to give some serious struggle to her character, and succeeded in making her a more complex and human character than you’d expect. I also thoroughly enjoyed O’Shea Jackson, Jr, especially the fact that he was absolutely obsessed with Batman, something that I never saw coming, and continued to delight me for the whole movie.
Despite all of that good though, I was a little caught off guard with the movie’s focus. Going in, like I said, I assumed that this was going to be a great takedown of the social media world. Taylor seemed like she was going to become a strawman to mock everyone who makes a living just being famous. It appeared that Ingrid’s whole goal in life was going to be to lead what looks like an exciting life, to strangers. And while that sort of thing certainly did get talked about, they didn’t really have much to say about it. The movie paid a lot of lipservice to the idea of social media, and how becoming fixated on other people’s lives is a little problematic, but it never delivered enough insight into them. However, what I wasn’t expecting, was the fact that the movie ended up delivering a story about obsession, and fixating on a better life. They use social media as the source of this obsession, but I ended up leaving the film far more interested in Ingrid’s quest to better her life than the fact she used Instagram a lot. Ingrid is a person with an unspecified mental illness, but there’s something deeply relateable about her. She’s constantly convinced that others are leading a better life than her, and that they must know the secret to happiness. By looking through the meticulously crafted lens of Taylor’s social media profile, Ingrid assumed that Taylor was living a perfect life, and was so desperate to get some of that for herself that she wove this insane con. But, when she got close enough, she learned that things weren’t perfect. Taylor had problems, and doubts, and her and Ezra’s marriage wasn’t nearly as perfect as she was portraying it. Everyone has problems. No one is perfect. And that realization kind of devastates Ingrid. Her speech before her suicide attempt is incredibly dark and powerful, talking about how she doesn’t understand why she is the way she is, and that she doesn’t know how to help herself from obsessing over people. But she’s not alone. We all obsess over what we don’t have, and the lives we don’t lead, while never even thinking that the people we hold up are probably wishing they were someone else too.
Ingrid Goes West was written by David Branson Smith and Matt Spicer, directed by Matt Spicer, and released by Neon, 2017.
Categories: Reel Talk