INGRID GOES WEST Review
Director: Matt Spicer
I’ll be the first to let you know that I watch Jason Reitman’s MEN, WOMEN & CHILDREN religiously. Not because it’s good. On the contrary. It confidently registers as one of the sorriest attempts at social critique I’ve ever seen. Between Adam Sandler getting cuckholded by his wife’s crusade via Ashley Madison and Ansel Elgort attempting suicide because his father suspended his GUILD WARS subscription (the game is free to play god damnit, but that’s for another article entirely), it falls into a misled earnestness that few films, if any, could successfully climb out of.
It’s for this reason that I approached Matt Spicer’s debut, INGRID GOES WEST, with similar trepidation. For those not in the know, Spicer’s film is about a social media fanatic who finds herself living a life of Instagrammed artifice in sunny California. It sounded promising enough, and the prospect of seeing Aubrey Plaza smoke a vape after doing a sexy dance in a Catwoman costume had me hook, line, and sinker. Surely Plaza wasn’t going to fail me the way Reitman did, but then again, that’s exactly what I was thinking when I giddily strapped in for the latest feature from the JUNO director. So with that quick assessment, I braced for impact, ready for anything, and to my absolute bewilderment, INGRID GOES WEST was not only deliciously funny, but a far more astute discourse on the dangerous cycle of web popularity.
A 1:1 aspect ratio would’ve done me in
Because here’s the rub: there’s really no way to critique technology without sounding like an old fart. En lieu of that realization, it becomes rather obvious that the only elegant way to frame a narrative around the subject of social media is to build a psychological study. In Reitman’s defense, he did attempt to do this, but his conclusions always circled back to the dangers of the world wide web, blaming everything from anorexia to erectile dysfunction on the internet—you’d not be suffering from these things if you wouldn’t be on the web. INGRID GOES WEST is a little more subtle in its rhetoric. That’s probably the last thing you’d expect from an Aubrey Plaza comedy about a borderline sociopath, but hey, it’s all relative at the end of the day.
What really matters is that INGRID GOES WEST is funny and impeccably cast. Plaza’s character is emotionally vulnerable, layered with all the absurdities that make her such an indelible comedic force. O’Shea Jackson Jr. delivers the right amount of neurotic aggression to counter Plaza—I was about to compare him to a young Ice Cube, but then I realized he’s literally Ice Cube’s son. Elizabeth Olsen is perhaps the most inventive casting choice here, brimming with a superficial energy that not only matches her character, but feels aptly meta-textual to her own glamorous upbringing.
“So is the FULL HOUSE house on Sunset or Hollywood?”
But the real stars of the show are Wyatt Russell and Billy Magnussen. Not only are the two perfect polar opposites, but help seesaw our allegiances through their respective honesty and insanity. Spicer doubles down on this in the latter half of his film, when initial antagonists become quite empathetic due to Plaza’s growing mania. Which brings me to the characterization of our lead actress. As a character portrait, INGRID GOES WEST is undeniably flawed: we don’t get quite enough reason to root for Plaza’s reckless protagonist, but the ensemble that surrounds her cleverly paints a backdrop for a millennial Los Angeles. Terrible artists are cheered on by their overconfident girlfriends, and projecting your simulated life onto Instagram is rewarded with money. It’s less that we root for her, but against every phony jerk that surrounds her, despite her own infatuation with them.
It’s not necessarily insightful filmmaking, but Spicer successfully manages to avoid most classic comedy tropes. INGRID GOES WEST’s crowning moment occurs in its final scene, one that isn’t unlike the conclusion to Reitman’s MEN, WOMEN & CHILDREN. The reason Spicer’s film comes out stronger is because it shows the dual-purpose nature of technology. Not only can it perpetuate the harmful cycle of a mentally unstable individual, but it can also help save lives. INGRID GOES WEST makes it abundantly clear that it isn’t here to chastise the internet, but rather to consider how it can catalyze someone’s self-harm. It’s not a denouncement of modern technology, but a study of our internal loneliness and lust for communication. It’s not far from what Jason Reitman had in mind, but It’s leaps and bounds more effective.