Ingrid Goes West and all the images you see in this review are owned by Neon
Directed by Matt Spicer
Everyone likes Aubrey Plaza, right? I mean sure, she played Grumpy Cat that one time… and she was in Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates… but even those can’t take away from her amazing work in Scott Pilgrim vs the World, Parks and Recreation, even stuff like Legion which I haven’t seen yet but have heard good things about. Though, she doesn’t have to push it with stuff like Dirty Grandpa. Anyway, this film seems to be quite a departure for her, at least as far as the stuff I’ve seen, and seems reminiscent of stuff like The Cable Guy or One Hour Photo where you take a famous comedian and have them go SO far against type that it’s practically the key selling point of the movie. It’s not ALWAYS a winning formula, but it can at least make for an interesting movie which this certainly looks to be at the very least! Does Aubrey Plaza have what it takes to branch out of her comfort zone and blow us all away in a completely different genre, or are we stuck watching the same old shtick over and over again to diminishing results? Let’s find out!!
Ingrid Thorburn (Aubrey Plaza) has had it rough as of late. Not only did her mother just die, but her best friend had a wedding and didn’t even bother to invite her! Okay, TECHNICALLY they were FACEBOOK friends and her way of handling the situation wasn’t the BEST show judgement (mace is usually not the best tool when trying to express your disappointment in someone), but hey! She got some help at a nearby hospital and she even got a decent amount of money from her mother’s insurance policy! This is the perfect chance for her to start fresh and find someone NEW to stalk! But the million dollar question is… who!? Well, she finds out about a photographer named Taylor (Elizabeth Olsen) while reading a magazine and follows her on Instagram; immediately falling in love with the life that Taylor leads and decides that she wants a piece of that. She ends up going to California (oh NOW I get it!) and rents a pool house from some dude name Dan (O’Shea Jackson Jr) who’s writing an unsolicited spec script for the new Batman movie, and proceeds to find a way to ingratiate herself into Taylor’s life. She manages to do so (I won’t spoil how here!) and soon becomes close friends with both Taylor and her husband Ezra (Wyatt Russell), but how long can this charade go on before the two find out just how obsessive Ingrid is or are on the receiving end of her wrath? Well Taylor’s brother Nicky (Billy Magnussen) might just have something to do with it who seems to be able to see through Ingrid’s bullshit. Probably because he’s manipulative and evil in just the same ways that she is; or perhaps even worse! Will Ingrid find the connection with people she’s so desperately seeking, or will she find a way to ruin everything once her façade starts to crack? Will Dan realize that Ingrid is up to no good before he gets sucked into her world of lies and impulsive violence? Is it just me, or is this an unnecessarily dark turn to take a Parks and Recreation spin-off!?
A lot of people have been saying that this has been a great year for movies, and while I’m inclined to believe that on average it’s been WAY better than last year, I haven’t seen a lot of films that felt like they were important or that TRULY stood out from the crowd; not just this year, but something that will be remembered a decade from now. I don’t know if Ingrid Goes West will get the recognition that it deserves, but for me it’s probably the best film we’ve gotten so far and CERTAINLY feels like something new and something that’s actually important. It’s probably the closest we’ll get to an American Psycho or A Clockwork Orange for the twenty first century; maybe not in terms of style, or raw filmmaking talent, but in just how well it manages to capture the look and feel of the world in which it takes place. For A Clockwork Orange it was the seventies and American Psycho was the eighties, but this is in the same vein as it takes a long uncomfortable look at the darkest interpretation of how many of us interact and communicate; trying to shock us not with how alien and disruptive that darkness is, but how common it is and how often we see it in our daily lives. Hey, if you don’t like any of that, it’s at least funny as hell!
The movie is basically a dark meditation on the ways that social media has changed the way we perceive the world around us as well as the people in it, and unlike something such as the Emoji Movie which is dull and cynical from the perspective of those too old to engage with it meaningfully, this movie never feels like a technophobic or THESE DARN KIDS TODAY type of movie. Similar to Get Out, it feels like an exploration of a primal fear told from a perspective that the filmmakers behind it are intimately familiar of and can’t reasonably excise themselves from either, and while I wouldn’t equate being black with being engaged in social media, the latter has become such an important part of our lives, not just for leisure and communication, but for work, news, and just in general engaging with the broader world around us, that it manages to have the kind of nuance that dumb as doorknobs horror films like Friend Request could never hope to achieve and are much less scary for lacking it. All that said though, this REALLY isn’t a horror film in the same way that A Clockwork Orange or even Psycho are TRULY horror films in the way we traditionally think of them. It’s a really dark character piece that manages to capture the cultural zeitgeist and twist it on its ear to shockingly good effect; especially considering how much I related to Ingrid, loath as I am to admit it. There were just small things that Aubrey Plaza does in this like the way she scarfs down her french fries or even how she has to psych herself up to look and act presentable when people are around. I can’t tell you how many times I have to stop and ACTIVELY think about how I’m walking and carrying myself so I don’t look like a slob, or how many times I’ve spilt food on my shirt and thought GOOD JOB YOU SLOPPY IDIOT. Hell, even her utter elation at getting a message from someone she follows but has never met before is something I think we can all relate to on some level and it does a great deal to humanize her while also making it THAT much scarier when it all leads to her doing some outrageous and awful shit. Make no mistake, whatever her issues may be and how much of it is her own fault; she IS a very toxic person and is prone to making people’s lives much worse just by being around them.
Speaking of Ingrid, Aubrey Plaza is a revelation in this as someone managed to finally take the persona that she’s built up over the last decade and give it an uncomfortably sinister edge. That someone might have been Aubrey Plaza herself by the way considering she’s a producer on this, and honestly you couldn’t get this kind of performance out of an actor if they weren’t committed to the role and had a vision for this character. Ingrid is lonely and doesn’t know how to connect with people, but she copes with this by obsessing over social media accounts and ends up drawing conclusions and making connections that are simply not there. To her, interactions on social media really are the most meaningful connections in her life and so she assumes the same from the people on the other side of the Instagram comments or Facebook posts. The awkwardness through with Ingrid tries to connect with people is perfect for someone like Aubrey Plaza who’s built a career off of disaffected characters, but when Ingrid goes too far and start crossing boundaries (all in service of solidifying her one sided relationships with other people), she knows how to subtly change her mannerisms and facial expressions to give the audience a brief glimpse into the raging fire of unmanaged and extremely selfish emotions bubbling beneath the surface which is the key to this film being as great as it is. There’s a balance between following her on this journey while also fearing what she’s capable of next which keeps things tense and engaging all the way through, and almost all of it rested on her shoulders to make it work.
She’s the shining star to be sure, but the rest of the cast really goes above and beyond what would normally be necessary for the roles they are given; especially O’Shea Jackson Jr who initially comes off as a cliché and one dimensional stoner archetype from any number of bad comedies, but over the course of the film he’s given plenty of opportunities to expand beyond our initial impression of him. Mother fucker is OBSESSED with Batman which sounds like a lame joke from The Big Bang Theory, but the more we understand about WHY he’s such a big fan (as well as his appreciation for the Joel Schumacher era) gives him a level of unexpected depth that only adds to the drama (and terror) that we feel whenever Ingrid acts selfish and destructive. Even Elizabeth Olsen who could have worked if she was simply the object of Ingrid’s affection (a one dimensional symbol of everything she wants) has layers of dimension as well as quite a few flaws that makes her (and her husband played by Wyatt Russell who’s just as well defined) come off as a REAL person whose life Ingrid could potentially be ruining. If there’s one weak spot here, it’s Billy Magnussen as Elizabeth Olsen’s brother who comes in way too late, exists simply to be a destructive element for Ingrid, and is WAY too much of a caricature to fit in with what’s going on. Sure, the point of the movie is that EVERYONE is putting up socially acceptable fronts to hide their inner lives, but Nicky’s not on screen long enough for his to really come down so he ends up coming across exactly how his tough guy exterior purports him to be.
Since we’re on the subject of what doesn’t quite work, there is a MINUTE flaw in regards to continuity and I have mixed feelings about the ending. The small flaw in here simply has to do with how much money Ingrid has which seems to fluctuate throughout the movie. At first, she seems to have enough money to fund her absurd scheme, but there’s a montage right in the middle of the movie which indicates that her small fortune has dwindled to nothing, yet it’s never brought up again and we in fact learn that she still has nearly ALL of her money still as we head into the third act. It’s something that could have been fixed with a few edits and line changes here and there, but it’s also not something that really detracts much from the movie and is pretty easy to ignore. Now when it comes to the ending… I don’t know. This may be projecting considering how often I had to catch myself from feeling THAT bad for Ingrid, but it felt like the filmmakers were ultimately TOO invested in her character to not in some way, if not lionize, then excuse some of her shitty behavior throughout. Compare this to something like American Psycho where the way it was filmed made it clear that Mary Harron HATED this despicable piece of shit or even A Clockwork Orange where Kubrick is obviously fascinated by Alex to some extent but never really tries to get us to sympathize with him even when he’s at his lowest point. I can see a lot of people, especially those on the receiving end of their very own Ingrid, being massively turned off by the movie because of the way it ultimately tries to frame Ingrid, but even trying to be aware of this myself, I still enjoyed what they did at the end and appreciated what the movie’s ultimate message was; even if the perspective feels a little bit off.
Before the movie started, I took a picture of the theater which was COMPLETELY empty at the time (only three or four people filtered in a few minutes later) and I sent a tweet about it. Once the movie was over it turned out that David Branson Smith the co-writer of the film had tweeted back and I couldn’t have imagined a more fitting way to end the experience. There are plenty of movies I liked this year like Kidnap, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, and Free Fire, but this movie along with Get Out are easily the ones that have risen above the rest and hopefully this film will be recognized as such once everyone starts doing their year-end tallies. This isn’t playing in NEARLY enough theaters and I wouldn’t recommend going THAT far out of your way to see it (I drove forty minutes and I think that’s about as far as I’d recommend going) but if you can, you should ABSOLUTELY check this out. It may not be a movie for everyone, but I hope this ends up finding its audience who will enjoy this immensely. Hopefully not TOO much though, otherwise they might have missed the point of the movie…