The world of Instagram celebrity is incredibly easy to make fun of. There’s no shortage of triple-filtered, self-consciously curated phonies with a string of hashtags trailing their every carefully framed move.
Ingrid Goes West jumps into their world but it doesn’t go for ‘kids today!’ mockery. It uses Instagram stardom as the basis for a very dark comedy about the false face shown by all of us on social media.
The Ingrid of the title is Ingrid Thorburn, who has recently spent time in a psychiatric facility after macing her ‘best friend’ for not inviting her to her wedding. Ingrid had never in fact met this best friend; she just followed the woman on Instagram and fantasised a relationship. Having learned absolutely nothing, Ingrid, carrying a bag of cash inherited from her mother, heads to LA in pursuit of a new Instagram crush, Taylor Sloane. Taylor is blonde, beautiful and lives the apparently perfect life Ingrid wants. Ingrid manages to inveigle her way into Taylor’s life, but how long can she maintain the façade that she’s as cool and happy as Taylor?
Ingrid Goes West remains black-hearted all the way to its killer last scene.
One of the cleverest things in Matt Spicer’s film, co-written with David Branson Smith, is that so many people are lying for no reason. Ingrid commits to a fake personality she thinks Taylor will like, but Taylor seems more intrigued by Ingrid’s odd moments. Taylor pretends she’s obsessed with fancy writers, as if anyone gives a damn if she’s read Joan Didion. All this desperate scrabble to appear perfect to other people, who are scrabbling just as much, builds this bizarre tower of lies that can only come toppling down.
It would be easy enough to make either of these women the film’s villain. Ingrid is selfish and shallow, using other people’s emotions to advance her own needs, then playing the victim if anyone calls her on her actions. Taylor could so simply be the bitchy fame-vampire who cares for nothing and nobody unless they can help her rack up a few more likes. It’s better than that. Taylor’s shallow but not a bitch, and Ingrid’s only the victim of her own bizarre schemes. It looks at the good and bad in both women and gets to the heart of why they crave approval enough to fake their personalities.
The casting is perfect. Plaza brings a new depth to the misanthrope she’s often asked to play, and Olsen is so naturally warm she takes the chill off Taylor. In the supporting cast, O’Shea Jackson Jr stands out as Ingrid’s landlord/aspiring screenwriter, Dan. A man who doesn’t work and has staked his future happiness on successfully selling a Batman spec script shouldn’t be appealing, but you find yourself rooting for Dan and his probably terrible screenplay. Smith and Spicer have a way of making all their characters — none of whom do traditional jobs yet have found their way to money — sympathetic by laying out their insecurities. It’s much easier to like a character when you can see they’re trying their best. The only really bad guy in the whole thing is Taylor’s brother, Nicky (Billy Magnussen), who acts like he deserves his party-hard life.
It’s rare for even a dark comedy to resist getting all soft and fuzzy at the end, but Ingrid Goes West remains black-hearted all the way to its killer last scene. No happy endings. No Hollywood sunset. No filter.