Written and directed by Matt Spicer, Ingrid Goes West is a harrowing tale about the era of social media dominance that we’re living in, and the powerful effect it can and does have over our lives.
It’s obvious in the first few minutes of the film that something is seriously wrong with Ingrid Thorburn (Aubrey Plaza). After a montage of perfect Instagram pictures – with the captions narrated by the poster, something the film uses more than once to great effect – Ingrid storms into a wedding in a teary rage and pepper sprays the girl we’ve just seen in the Instagram posts.
We quickly transition to Ingrid recovering in a mental hospital, narrating a written letter of forgiveness to the friend she assaulted. Upon her release, Ingrid immediately gets sucked back into her phone and the picture-perfect world of social media. She returns home where the evidence of her mother’s untimely death is everywhere. Ingrid languishes about, completely absorbed in the virtual lives of others, until she finds a new obsession in the form of Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen). Taylor is a social media influencer living in Los Angeles who is effortlessly bohemian, with a loving and artistic husband, as well as a photogenic dog, Rothko.
Ingrid cashes the large inheritance check from her mother and moves to Los Angeles to be closer to Taylor. She rents an apartment from a quirky but kind landlord (Dan Pinto, played by O’Shea Jackson Jr.), and soon visits every place, buys every item, and does every activity posted about in Taylor’s Instagram. Through a chance meeting, Ingrid is able to follow Taylor home and steal her dog after Taylor and her husband leave for the evening. When “Lost Dog” posters are put up around the area, Ingrid calls the number and speaks to Ezra O’Keefe (Wyatt Russell), Taylor’s husband, and she returns Rothko home. This opens the door for Ingrid to befriend Taylor and Ezra, furthering her obsession with them and her desire to showcase a perfect new life in Los Angeles.
It’s at this point where the film takes a turn for the worse. Nicky Sloane (Billy Magnussen), Taylor’s brother, is introduced as a particularly annoying villain. Relationships crumble, violence breaks out, and situations quickly spiral out of control. The film had the potential to provide a really insightful commentary on social media use. It does have glimmers of that throughout the first parts of the movie, but the events that speed us in headlong chaos towards the conclusion, and the conclusion itself, feel unsatisfactory and fall flat for me.
I don’t think I would say this is a “must see” film, and I don’t plan on watching it again. However, it does say some interesting things about social media usage, the obsession with portraying perfection for strangers to gawk at, and the loneliness and lack of meaningful physical connections that can result from a life ruled by technology.
The acting was decent, although as a huge Parks and Recreation fan, it was difficult for me to see Aubrey Plaza as anyone but April. Her desperation was painful to watch, but she had moments of relatability in there as well. Elizabeth Olsen was the real star of the show, in my opinion. She pulled off the cool, calm, effortless look that is plastered all over Instagram in real life. I found her to be incredibly convincing as Taylor, with all of the expected self absorption doled out in the right amounts at the right times. It was easy to be irritated at the character in those moments, but it never crossed the line into making her a villain. I never wanted to side with her over Ingrid, and there was just enough nuance to both Taylor and Ingrid to make their character developments and interactions interesting to watch.
There are certain parts of the film that I see as problematic or pointless at best. There is a violent scene in the desert that is unnecessary and strange. It reinforces Ingrid’s desperation and to what lengths she’ll go, but we already know that. The film began with her pepper spraying someone at their own wedding, for Pete’s sake. There’s no way she could actually lift Dan into the truck to get him to a hospital, and there’s no explanation for how Nicky was found or got help or anything.
The film reinforces a lot of existing negative stereotypes about Millennials. Not everyone in that generation is bad at managing money, or bad at forging meaningful relationships, or obsessed with avocado toast. It’s quite the commentary on that segment of the Instagram population personified by Taylor and the people in her life, but I would have enjoyed seeing more variety in some secondary characters. The most painful part of the entire movie was watching Ingrid dump $50,000 in cash onto a realtor’s desk without even negotiating price. Seriously, incredibly painful.
Jonathan Sadoff and Nick Thorburn are the composers for the film. Thorburn appears to be a relative newcomer to film composing, while Sadoff has a more substantial list of credits, including just a couple of films that I have seen before this one. I would absolutely love to know what role each of them had in the scoring process and how they handled the film together. There were absolutely a lot of modern production elements used in the score, as well as a good mix of source cues used in pivotal moments.
My top 3 musical impressions are:
- The cues feel disjointed, and I wasn’t able to pick out anything as a unifying idea. Now this was after one view of the film. It’s possible there’s more nuance there than I picked up on, but it wasn’t apparent to me. Strong and effective concepts should usually be identifiable after the first viewing.
- Nothing felt distinct to this film. The tone of the film is fairly interesting, but I’m not sure the score did this one any favors. It’s a dark comedy – heavy emphasis on “dark,” with plenty of suspense mixed in. But the score lacks individuality. The balance between the source music and the score is fine, so clearly the composers know what they’re doing and this isn’t meant to knock their abilities. I just think the uniqueness of the film could have benefited greatly from a bolder and more defined musical concept (like I mentioned in point #1). Of course, a bold and defined musical concept would have to be subject to director approval!
- The mix of the cues seemed off. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great when the score is allowed its time to shine in a film, but there were several points where it was TOO noticeable. We actually turned the volume down several times throughout the movie where it felt like the music was bumped too high in relation to the rest of the levels of dialogue and sound effects. It’s cool to give the music its moment, but there needs to be consistency in where the audio levels are capped, no matter how much auditory information is coming out.
My top 3 film impressions are:
- Nicky is the worst. And not just because I personally found the character really annoying. The audience is introduced to the character fairly late in the film and he’s definitely not necessary. It’s obvious to the audience that Ingrid is crazy and she’s going to be found out by Taylor and Ezra in one way or another. Adding his character changes the trajectory of the film and spoils the logical conclusion the film has already set up that Ingrid is perfectly capable of causing her own undoing. Nicky has no motivation for blackmailing her either; it really doesn’t make a lot of sense. He’s a drug addict, and he has an anecdote about losing his credit card, but there’s no real indication that he’s hurting for money. His character is completely one-dimensional and pretty pointless. I just couldn’t get past how annoyed I was by him because there was no real character motivation to consider.
- Dan Pinto’s character was woefully undeveloped. He could have been a grounding character for Ingrid and the voice of reason, but the film never allowed him that chance. The same happens with Ezra – he has the potential to be an insightful and meaningful character, but he’s pushed even further into the background of the narrative than Dan is. Dan forgives Ingrid way too easily for the MANY times she screws him over, and is way too interested in her romantically way too soon. It’s just not believable. I mean, she’s the reason he ends up in the hospital, and then she ditches him and steals his truck to literally stalk Taylor. And he’s just cool with it all when he sees her next. That is just after she’s survived a suicide attempt, but total forgiveness? I think it’s too big of a stretch. And then, after seeing her at her worst and knowing what she’s been through, he is the one who hands her phone back to her and exposes her to the whole cycle all over again. O’Shea Jackson Jr. does a fantastic job with the role he’s given, it’s just not a good role.
- The end just…ends. After the entire movie, we end up right back in the same spot as when we started. Ingrid has woken up in the hospital after being saved by Dan – and social media – and she hops right back on Instagram to view the outpouring of support she’s gotten. She apparently hasn’t learned anything from her destructive behaviors and no life-lesson has gotten through. Her remorse for manipulating and hurting Dan seems to just dissolve away in an instant, and none of the accusations she threw at Taylor about being fake and phony have remained with her. There seems to be no connection between the hell she just went through and the beginning of a new obsession. Just this time, it’s with herself.
If there’s a lesson to learn from this film, you have to infer it yourself. The characters definitely don’t learn any lessons. I think the film would have been more enjoyable for me personally if Nicky wasn’t a part of it and Ingrid was allowed to unravel all by herself. Also, if Dan had provided some sort of realistic support instead of becoming another enabler, it would have given his character more depth and would have made his assertion that he truly cared about Ingrid more believable. Ultimately, it bothers me that we have this commentary film about Instagram and social media use and how that can affect people, but none of the characters show any growth either because of it or in spite of it.
It’s a bit frustrating that a film that starts so well ends the way it does. Now you may go watch the film and decide you love the ending – it’s certainly making a point. I guess I had hoped it would make a different point.