Nobody wants to be like Ingrid.
‘Where’s my phone?’
This is the first thing Ingrid Thorburn (Aubrey Plaza) says after waking up in the hospital, towards the end of the film. A social media addict, Ingrid has invested the entirety of her self-worth into her social media. We’d all like to think we’re not dependent on our online profiles, that we value ourselves and our friends offline, but try to watch Matt Spicer’s thriller/comedy Ingrid Goes West without seeing a little of yourself in its title character.
We first meet Ingrid in an almost uncomfortable closeup. She’s sobbing, staring at her phone and ‘liking’ every post she comes across on a friend’s Instagram wedding album. It’d be downright silly if it weren’t for Aubrey Plaza, who takes Ingrid’s mental instability seriously, giving an empathetic and disturbingly authentic performance.
After attacking her friend and briefly staying in a mental hospital, Ingrid is back online. She receives a reply from Instagram celebrity Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen), which she takes as a gesture of genuine human connection. Spicer and David Branson Smith’s screenplay is very funny, but it’s as much of a comedy as Martin Scorsese’s The King of Comedy. You laugh, but you see in these narcissistic characters a version of yourself you don’t want to admit to.
Using far more socially acceptable methods than De Niro’s Rupert Pupkin, Ingrid stalks Taylor. She visits the restaurants Taylor frequents, orders the same foods, buys and wears her clothes and, in an attempt to meet her, kidnaps her dog so she can return it to her. Olsen gives a pitch-perfect performance as the blandly superficial Taylor. Her smile is wide and relaxed, she speaks with the kind of laconic indifference you’d expect from someone trying to be cool, while her lines are peppered with hyperbolic adjectives: everything is ‘Amazing’, her brother is ‘Genius-level smart’, and she’s quick to tell Ingrid ‘I love you’ on their first night out. Of course, to Taylor, it means nothing. For Ingrid? It’s all she’s ever wanted.
It’d be a shame to spoil Ingrid’s haphazardly curated ostentatious lifestyle and where it takes her, because the cringe-y fun of this film is in dreading her next move and being unable to look away. As Jonathan Sadoff and Nick Thorburn’s energetic score hams up the film’s stalker/thriller vibes, we learn that Ingrid is despicably self-absorbed, but she’s also very sick. For her, social media is a lifeline that provides little dopamine rushes of self-worth, every notification an incentive to keep going.
Confrontational for anyone who checks their phone first thing in the morning, Ingrid Goes West is refreshingly funny in its depiction of a modern, manufactured epidemic. It’s easily Aubrey Plaza’s best performance to date and it might even cause you to think twice about checking your phone the second you wake up. Nobody wants to be like Ingrid.
Tom Bensley is a freelance writer in Melbourne who reviews anything he attends, watches or reads. It’s a compulsion, really. Follow him @TomAliceBensley.
Ingrid Goes West will be in cinemas 26 October.