We all know those evenings where we lie down in bed with a glass of wine or five, scrolling through Instagram, reminiscing on what went wrong with our own lives when those of others look so much better – at least on Instagram
Ingrid Goes West takes our very human addiction with social media to the next level. We are introduced to Ingrid (Aubrey Plaza) just as she is about to crash the wedding of her former best friend Charlotte, by attacking her with pepper spray. This stunt lands Ingrid in a psychiatric facility for a while, where she tries to overcome the root of her current mental instability: her mother’s death.
Once back home Ingrid throws herself into the virtual world again and soon finds a new object of affection in the influencer Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen). Ingrid uses her inheritance to move to Venice Beach, California, get a makeover, and follow Taylor’s every move thanks to the information available on Instagram. She initially kidnaps Taylor’s dog and returns it to her, which brings her closer to Taylor and her husband and their picture-perfect, no-filter world. The two women become friends, and Ingrid peaks when Taylor posts a picture of the two of them on her Instagram account.
Ingrid’s façade begins to crack when Taylor’s brother Nicky (Billy Magnussen) comes to town. The recovering drug addict immediately suspects Ingrid of being one of his sister’s many social media fans, and steals her phone to prove it. Ingrid enlists the help of her neighbour (and occasional fake-boyfriend), the Batman-obsessed script-writer Dan (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) to try to blackmail Nicky, which completely backfires.
Ingrid Goes West tells the very real struggle of millennials to find validation through social media attention. That validation is given through likes, replies, or reposts. The fact that the persona created online is barely ever even a fraction of one’s self is irrelevant. The movie also highlights the dangers of over-sharing on social media, and the difficulties of always being accessible.
In Matt Spicer’s masterpiece, we learn a lot of things about Taylor, who seems to have the perfect life, with the perfect husband, the perfect friends, the perfect house, and even the perfect dog – at least according to her Instagram page. But her dreams and desires are superficial, and her interests often adapted from the people around her; she steals her “favorite book” from her husband, without ever really having read it. Her relationships and friendships are superficial too, and the moment another opportunity comes along, Taylor drops them.
Ingrid initially supports and desires Taylor’s lifestyle. After the loss of her mother, who she admits was her best friend, she is now looking for something to replace that source of validation. She finds this first in her one-sided friendship with Charlotte, then with Taylor, but it is never real. Ingrid goes above and beyond to stage every aspect of her friendship with Taylor, from the first meet-cute to the final moments of their time together. She lies, steals, and kidnaps to insert herself into Taylor’s life.
Nonetheless, the movie’s ending shows that social media consumers are very aware of the flakiness and superficiality surrounding these networks, and what eventually causes Ingrid’s 15 minutes of fame is her one moment of truth. When she shows her vulnerability, and her real self, people identify and connect with it, and freely give her the validation and attention she craves. Even on Instagram, a platform meant to showcase the best possible version of ourselves, it is still considered more desirable to be real for second.
Ingrid Goes West is a fantastic piece of contemporary art, that, if found 100 years from now, fittingly describes how our society currently functions. The movie features wonderful performances from leading ladies Aubrey Plaza and Elizabeth Olsen. It’s a perfect balance of jokes, that had the whole theatre cackling, and emotional scenes that had some of us shed a tear. The movie is sprinkled with little moments of love, particularly in the scenes between Ingrid and Dan, whose Batman-obsession truly hit home for some viewers and whose unwavering determination was impressive.
Ingrid Goes West is a movie that is not just entertaining to millennials and those mildly-obsessed with their social media presence, but for everyone who wants to understand how people react to the pressures of re-creating your own life for public purposes.
The movie will be screened for general audiences Saturday October 7, Sunday October 8, and Saturday October 14. For more information, visit the official BFI London Film Festival website.