Aubrey Plaza has a knack for choosing the right small, just off the radar indie projects. In the past, she starred in overlooked gems such as, The To Do List, Safety Not Guaranteed and The Little Hours, which came out earlier this year. Ingrid Goes West is her most recent indie gem, and perhaps her best.
Ingrid Goes West features Plaza as Ingrid (duh!), who has some umm… let’s call them social issues. She equates passing interactions on social media as meaningful friendships. These virtual relationships quickly turn into real obsessions.
Her latest target is a California Insta-girl named Taylor (played by Elizabeth Olsen, whose stock is rising rapidly of late), who responded to one of Ingrid’s carefully thought out comments on her latest food photo. Taylor’s winking advice to “check it out next time you’re in LA” is all the incentive Ingrid needs. She grabs her backpack full of newly-received cash (no spoilers on how she got the money) and headed west to spy on Taylor/become friends with Taylor.
Through some mild stalking and other questionable behavior, Ingrid becomes fast friends with Taylor. Desperate to win and retain Taylor’s affection through any means necessary, Ingrid takes advantage of her overly trusting landlord/next-door neighbor and Batman superfan, Dan (played by O’Shea Jackson Jr. who is about one more praiseworthy performance away from breaking free from people calling him “Ice Cube’s son” and just calling him O’Shea Jackson Jr.)
At first, Ingrid pays little attention to Dan unless she needs something from him. But he soon shows her that he’s the only one that truly likes her for who she really is. It’s the most heartfelt moment in a movie that often hides behind its humor.
Of course, with Ingrid things cannot remain rosy for long. She’s a tornado of dysfunction and terrible decision making. Her dream world unravels and in the end the audience is faced with a rather confusing message about the value and dangers of social media.
The movie’s stars make everything work. Give credit to first-time director Matt Spicer too, but it’s hard to imagine pulling off this level of emotional vacillation with any other group of actors.
Especially in the opening 20 minutes or so, each passing moment evokes a new emotion so rapidly and seemingly randomly that it’s almost as if Spicer was tossing dice and choosing a different emotion based on the roll. We dart between heartbreaking, heartwarming, hilarious, and shakily anxious. This is not a comfortable viewing experience.
We catch of glimpse of Ingrid’s humanity early on and she remains empathetic throughout despite behaving in mostly distasteful ways. Plaza deserves commendation for her performance, which is both nuanced and unhinged.
Ultimately, Dan reigns as the most likable character, even if he may be the most naïve. In a story of full of phonies, he always stays true to himself. That has got to count for something.