Aubrey Plaza is a national treasure. Her dry sass and sarcastic wit paired with a mastery of facial expressions are just a few of the reasons she continuously kills it on screen. Like many others, I was first introduced to this rising talent on Parks & Recreation. As an integral part of the ensemble cast, she not only stole Andy Dwyer’s heart but many a scene as well. She has gone on to play a variety of roles from comedic to dramatic and in Matt Spicer’s, “Ingrid Goes West,” it’s clear she is a master of dark humor.
“Ingrid Goes West” is a movie made possible by our growing obsession with technology. The film looks at this from various perspectives throughout the movie. Ranging from popular and influential hash taggers, those who can’t be bothered and more vividly, those who find themselves deeply immersed in the false reality where the number of likes on your breakfast determines your status in life. The latter of those, is the adorably unstable, Ingrid. Plaza gives us a brilliant portrayal of a young woman unable to cope with the sudden death of her mother. In an attempt to reconnect with the world she finds herself in a series of mishaps that land her in treatment at a psychiatric center. After being released and succumbing to the loneliness of an empty home, no close friends and a bad reputation, she turns to social media, specifically Instagram, as a coping mechanism where she loses touch with reality and spirals out of control.
Marvel’s own Scarlet Witch, Elizabeth Olsen, plays Taylor Sloane, a photographer and social media sweetheart. After seeing her in an ad with a headline that reads something like “the best friend you wish you had,” Ingrid is immediately dazzled by her online presence and is inspired to do like the movie title says and go west in search of her new lady crush. Not satisfied with just online interaction, she goes to creepy and unhealthy lengths in order to forge a friendship with Taylor and her boyfriend Wyatt, played by the easy on the eyes Ezra O’Keefe. The typical starving artist, he’s reluctant to embrace the web like his girlfriend and often at odds with her lifestyle. Enter Taylor’s brother, Nicky Sloane, who is literally the epitome of the ultimate “bro.” He adds to the tension with his reckless and self-centered agenda and descends upon the couple for an unscheduled, impromptu visit that breeds discontent amongst Wyatt and the newly found best friend, Ingrid.
As if she wasn’t already waist deep in crazy, things get worse. She’s desperately trying to find a friend in someone who comes across fake and materialistic and in the process, consistently using and abusing the one true friend she makes throughout the movie, her landlord Dan Pinto. Played by Ice Cubes own son, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Pinto plays the role of a genuinely sweet and caring guy. An aspiring screenplay writer who is a total Batman fanboy, he extends a true hand of friendship to Ingrid who is so caught up in her own delusions, she completely treats him like a jerk, straight on through to the end of the movie. The bit of dry charm that Plaza brings to the role is one of the only saving graces for her character beyond her backstory that allows you to feel empathy for her.
Now, In general, the film takes an honest look at social media and the variety of ways that different people use or value it. Smart phones play just as much of an important role in this film as the actors themselves however, the underlying theme throughout the film was that of mental health. Lies, addiction, obsessive compulsion, depression, anxiety, and other manic behaviors are just a few of the issues portrayed by these characters. None of the supporting cast are exempt from this, the movie just focuses on Ingrid’s spiral. As she comes undone, the story takes a dark turn to a place that was a bit unsettling and frankly, left me a little uncomfortable.
Up until that end, there had been a delicate balance between glorifying and rewarding her unhealthy behavior and showcasing how self-destructive it is. After leaving the theater, my friend and I discussed the message it was sending with the way they wrapped things up. Without giving anything away or spoiling it for you, I’ll just say that after hitting rock bottom, we get a quick turnaround to what is being portrayed as a happy ending. After struggling the whole movie with an infatuation with her phone and building a social media celebrity like presence, she finally gets what she wants with an outpouring of support from people online but at what cost? This is where the point gets fuzzy. Is the film validating her behavior or even worse, making light of issues like depression? At one point during a climactic scene with Taylor, it was disappointing to hear her perpetuate the stigmas that surround mental health by calling her a pathetic loser. She immediately follows it by telling her she has serious issues and should seek help so why do we even need those two lines? It is defining to her character but it’s so late in the movie that we didn’t need that to understand who she was. We both agreed that while we really enjoyed the film overall, the ending left us both feeling a little off and has the potential to ruin an otherwise pretty well done production.
Ingrid Goes West attempts to tackle some serious modern social issues with a bit of humor and a healthy dose of reality. It gives a very real and human side to dealing with loneliness, isolation, and general social awkwardness and anxiety. While its title and subject matter may trick you into thinking it’s just a fluff comedy about smartphones and social media, it’s actually a genuinely entertaining think piece that will more than likely spark a conversation or two after viewing. It may have been a little unsettling but maybe that’s the point. After all, 97 minutes of a woman coming undone due to her own inability to log off should definitely make you feel a little uneasy as you open your own phone to check your Facebook…