Directed by newcomer Matt Spicer, Ingrid Goes West emerges as an admittedly low-key funny social media satire with neither a novel nor clear message, exhilaratingly filtered with Instagram gloss that propels a cloud of loosely condescending irony. It follows the lonely life of a very insecure Ingrid Thornburn (Aubrey Plaza), a disturbed young woman who takes her inheritance money from her late mother, and, as the film’s title suggests, heads west to follow an Instagram celebrity. The object of Ingrid’s desire is Taylor Sloane, an avocado toast enthusiast and Joan Didion-loving photographer whose fake-deep life is complete with a man-bunned husband who spray-paints hashtags onto oil paintings and calls it art.
Obsessed with Taylor and her picture-perfect lifestyle, Ingrid befriends the Instagram star by means of stalking. She manipulates her hapless landlord, a Batman-loving aspiring screenwriter, into sponsoring her schemes, which goes half-noticed by her BFF who’s constantly seeking for moments to capture on her phone. Ingrid follows Taylor’s lead like a self-conscious high school outlier at the heels of her boho queen bee, who decorates her hive with basic rustic things that look like the knick-knacks at the Target dollar section but are actually ludicrously marked up.
Ingrid bases her sense of self with how many followers and likes she has. This is supposed to come off as disturbing and tragic. Ingrid’s motivations do inspire violence, breach legality, and hurt the people in her life (mostly herself). But the film is absurd and surreal to the point of self-parody. For example, she buys her stalkee’s dream house. Rips pages out of a Joan Didion novel to use as toilet paper. Aubrey Plaza does bring a delightfully nefarious and sympathetic Norman Bates quality to Ingrid who drives the story to its end. But the screenplay does not provide viewers with a necessary roadmap as it takes them on a joyride. Its structure often feels picaresque and random. And while there’s an easy chemistry between Elizabeth Olsen and Aubrey Plaza (two mumblecore queens in the making) as friends–maybe even a little more than friends—it can’t entirely lift the story, which never fully gels.
Ingrid Goes West tells us a story about mental health in the age of social media, a trending topic for decades to come. There’s an interesting point about Ingrid’s grief for her mother’s death that could be further explored. As the film stands, it’s telling us things we’ve already heard before, that social media makes us sad and disconnected with the world.