While social media outlets are the smartphone era’s most immediate form of connection, they have also become a global addiction with the power to cause serious mental health issues. In the satirical “Ingrid Goes West,” actors Aubrey Plaza and Elizabeth Olsen tell a cautionary tale about loneliness, delusion and how personal technology has rewritten our definition of love.
After being released from a mental hospital, Ingrid Thorburn develops an obsession with Instagram influencer Taylor Sloane. When her mother’s death leaves her with a $62,000 inheritance, Ingrid uses the money to move to Los Angeles and rent an apartment across the street from Taylor’s house. At first, she simply observes and imitates Taylor, but before long, she weasels her way into Taylor’s personal life and becomes a close friend of the SoCal socialite. But as Ingrid becomes increasingly desperate to keep the momentum going and Taylor’s dysfunctional nature starts to emerge, both women inch closer to a hard nosedive into the reality of their so-called friendship.
At first glance, the film’s plot might call to mind an episode of “Black Mirror.” While not as emotionally derailing, “Ingrid” is equally savage in pointing out our unsettling relationship with technology in the 21st century. We feel like outsiders looking in on a wonderland, like when we follow the adventures of others online. When Ingrid gets a makeover or buys a cool book because Taylor did, we get it. At the same time, we feel jealous when Ingrid does those things, the way we would while browsing a stranger’s cool social media feed. The cinematography feels almost like an Instagram filter, especially when the lens is focused on Ingrid’s experiences. At first, life with Taylor is sunny, chic and magical. As reality sets in, it fights to maintain even a shred of those dreamy golden rays.
Aubrey Plaza gives a career-best performance as the unhinged Ingrid. Her obsessive actions speak to our deepest desire to relate to people, even to total strangers, in a world where the new American dream is ‘social media fame.’ This is what keeps Ingrid relatable, even when we wish she would stop digging herself into a hole. Elizabeth Olsen convincingly pulls off the role of Taylor, projecting a veneer of composure that hides a tumultuous reality. Still, Taylor maintains that alluring illusion long enough to make the truth even more bitter. O’Shea Jackson, Jr. beautifully expands his acting wings as Dan, an aspiring screenwriter and Batman super-nerd who finds an unlikely connection in Ingrid. Billy Magnussen is wickedly annoying in an effective way as Taylor’s drug addicted brother, Nicky.
Social media provides constant connection, but warps our conception of people and success, and even ourselves.. “Ingrid Goes West” blends comedy, drama, tragedy and farce to ask the question of how identity is affected when being noticed is such a priority.
"Ingrid Goes West" is playing now in theaters.