Matt Spicer's debut has a lot to say about the social-media age, bending reality a great deal to get there. Ingrid Goes West may be scarily familiar but it feels slightly too distant to really have a provocative impact.
It is highly likely that before you found yourself reading this review you would have had to pull yourself away from Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat or Instagram after endlessly sprawling through the cat videos, memes and social-media celebrities which now feature as heavily in our daily lives as breathing. If you didn’t, you are one of the lucky few of us who still know what grass looks like, which means you are probably among the minority who will get little out of Ingrid Goes West. For the rest of us media junkies, Ingrid Goes West might feel a bit too familiar and may provide an all important (even if a little exaggerated) mirror on our generation.
The feature debut of director Matt Spicer, Ingrid Goes West takes on social-media obsession and the crushing anxiety which comes with it. Ingrid, (Audrey Plaza) an outcast who quickly becomes infatuated with the lives of others online, moves to LA in the attempt to befriend Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen), an Instagram-celebrity whose lifestyle she envies. Expect this film to reach darker places than you might expect from an indie-comedy.
Spicer’s film is one which feels very much in the present. There is a certain immediacy to its concerns which speaks directly to the contemporary mind-set. This is partly because the majority of the film’s humanism comes from our sympathy for Ingrid as the cinematic embodiment of the sociopath within the average 21st century media consumer; a concept which would likely be lost on any generation other than our own. Black Mirror is perhaps Ingrid Goes West’s closest relation, with the opening scene, as well as many of its themes, drawing heavy comparison with series 3 opener ‘Nosedive’. Both depict women crippled by their desire for appreciation; with likes, ratings and follows offering the perfect medium to provide them with a sense of worth. It is this dark exploration of the commodification of people through social-media where the film triumphs. As Ingrid gets closer to her ideal lifestyle through deceit and performance, she drifts further from reality and from herself. It is arguably something many will be guilty of, with jealousy being common-practice within the social-media landscape.
Successfully pulling-off her split-personalities, carefully differentiating between truth and performance, Plaza captures this element of Ingrid perfectly. It is her charismatic performance which makes the film work, allowing us to be both disturbed and sympathetic towards Ingrid as her methods to gain attention become more and more uncomfortable to watch. She is oblivious to her successes, clouded by the pursuit of her ultimate, and seemingly severely shallow goal, Ingrid fails to acknowledge her developing romance with Dan played by O’Shea Jackson Jr., who provides the film’s most likable character. At times this makes the film frustrating to watch, her ignorance becoming more irritating than interesting and her character becoming increasingly distant. Though this is in service to the film’s overarching message it forces Ingrid to become closer to the caricature of a millennial than it does a relatable reflection.
Despite this, Ingrid Goes West seems to have secured a youthful following and its exaggerated representations of its characters does come across more as a stylistic choice than an error. It’s cinematography contributes to this, brilliantly capturing the Instagram aesthetic and getting the right balance of capturing the bright, Utopian Los Angeles with the dark undertones of its story. Spicer’s film is coloured with the tones you would expect to see on Ingrid’s profile, providing a visual gateway to her psychological state. It’s a film which exploits a millennial gaze as if filtered through an I-phone camera and warps reality in a manner which accurately parallels our alternate realities online.
Assuming that you managed to read this in its entirety before clicking on another tab or transferring back over to the YouTube video you didn’t quite finish, Ingrid Goes West is well worth your time. And to summarize it in 140 characters: Probably @AudreyPlaza’s best performance so far and an interesting comment on the #SocialMediaGeneration. #IngridGoesWestFilm is darkly funny and scarily real.
Ingrid Goes West (2017), directed by Matt Spicer, is distributed in UK cinemas by Neon, certificate 15.