‘Ingrid Goes West’: Film Review | Sundance 2017
Aubrey Plaza plays a lonely young woman obsessed with Elizabeth Olsen's "influencer" in this comedy-drama directed by feature debutant Matt Spicer, whose script with David Branson Smith won the screenwriting award at Sundance.
Just like its millennial protagonists, low-budget dark comedy Ingrid Goes West wants it every way, all the time. It’s both a satire of social-media manners and mores, and one big product placement for Instagram and the like. Likewise, although it pokes fun at the entitled lifestyle of Los Angeleno Westsiders, with their mason-jar candle holders and fair-trade throw rugs, it still buys into the dream of plush property ownership and instant success for minimal effort.
Nevertheless, even though this feature debut for director Matt Spicer, who co-wrote the script with David Branson Smith, is sort of all over the place, it’s still often sharply amusing, crisply assembled and features game, broad-brushstroke performances from leads Aubrey Plaza and Elizabeth Olsen, vaguely recreating Single White Female for the smartphone generation. Acquired for U.S. distribution by Neon after its debut at Sundance, Ingrid ought to carve out a comfy niche for itself, and maybe even drum up a boutique, well-edited roster of followers.
The eponymous Ingrid (Plaza, giving good crazy eyes) is first met driving to a wedding while simultaneously thumbing likes on every post in newlywed Charlotte’s (Meredith Kathleen Hagner) Instagram feed, which seems to be updated every 10 seconds as Charlotte celebrates her nuptials in real time. At the venue, however, Ingrid’s gift is a burst of pepper spray in the face for the bride. Turns out, she’s basically a cyber-stalker who hardly knows Charlotte in the real world, but that didn’t stop her from feeling affronted over not being invited to the wedding.
Later, after a spell in a psychiatric hospital, Ingrid learns that she’s inherited over $60k from her recently deceased mother, whom she nursed through a long, exhausting battle with cancer, a detail that adds a bit of backstory heft without milking it too much. Keen to make a fresh start, she heads for California. Already smitten with the bourgie-boho lifestyle she sees celebrated in the feed of Taylor Sloane (Olsen), a professional “influencer” who basically shills products via social media, Ingrid washes up in Taylor’s Venice neighborhood. There, she secures a grungy one-room apartment being rented out by aspiring actor Dan Pinto (O’Shea Jackson Jr., from Straight Outta Compton).
Soon, Ingrid gets to work stalking Taylor, buying the same handbag as the one Taylor owns, eating in the same restaurants Taylor eats in, and so on. Finally, she resorts to kidnapping Taylor’s dog, just so she can pretend she found it on the street and therefore introduce herself to Taylor and Ezra (Wyatt Russell, Everybody Wants Some!!), Taylor’s handsome big lug of a husband, who makes supposedly ironic art out of charity-store-bought reproduction paintings and superimposed hashtag slogans, one of the film’s wittier spoofs.
Initially charmed by her new best friend, Taylor brings Ingrid into her life, taking her out to Joshua Tree where she hopes to buy a third bungalow and thereby start a small, boutique hotel business. But when Taylor’s glamorous but utterly amoral brother Nicky (Billy Magnussen) shows up suddenly, a wedge is driven between the two women.
Spicer and Branson Smith’s script adeptly sets the scene for some classic comedy of embarrassment and then sets things in motion smoothly, but as whirlwinds are reaped and revelations tumble out, a not-in-a-good-way sourness emerges that makes the last act more unpleasant than perhaps the filmmakers intended. Although one wants to praise the screenplay for not spelling everything out, sometimes the characters’ motivations feel just a little too opaque and their decisions seem more motivated by plot mechanics than real human desires. Nevertheless, the film won the award for best screenplay in the U.S. Dramatic Competition at Sundance.
On the other hand, that may be exactly the point, and the film might be read as a gloss on how shallow, whimsical and aimless these sort of people are. Certainly, hummingbird-fast editing, courtesy of Jack Price, makes the montages of emojis, hashtags and filtered phone-shot snapshots feel just as hyperactive and dizzying as one would expect, and like social media itself, the final effect is both weirdly entrancing and cloying.
Production companies: A Star Thrower Entertainment presentation of a 141 Entertainment, Mighty Engine production
Cast: Aubrey Plaza, Elizabeth Olsen, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Wyatt Russell, Billy Magnussen, Pom Klementieff, Hannah Utt, Joseph Breen
Director: Matt Spicer
Screenwriter: Matt Spicer, David Branson Smith
Producers: Jared Ian Goldman, Tim White, Trevor White, Adam Mirels, Robert Mirels, Aubrey Plaza, Meredith Kathleen Hagner
Director of photography: Bryce Fortner
Production designer: Susie Mancini
Costume designer: Natalie O'Brien
Editor: Jack Price
Music: Nick Thorburn
Casting: Faryn Einhorn
Venue: Sundance Film Festival (U.S. Dramatic Competition)
No rating, 97 minutes