Mark Reviews Movies

Ingrid Goes West


2.5 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Matt Spicer

Cast: Aubrey Plaza, Elizabeth Olsen, O'Shea Jackson Jr., Wyatt Russell, Billy Magnussen

MPAA Rating: R (for language throughout, drug use, some sexual content and disturbing behavior)

Running Time: 1:37

Release Date: 8/11/17 (limited); 8/18/17 (wider)

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Review by Mark Dujsik | August 17, 2017

Did social media create Ingrid Thorburn (Aubrey Plaza), the tech-savvy and smartphone-addicted stalker of Ingrid Goes West, or would she still possess the same obsessive nature in a pre-social media age? It's difficult to determine, but the one thing that's certain is that social media makes the act of stalking much easier for her. She doesn't have to follow the target of her obsession in real life. Ingrid simply has to look at a picture someone has posted online, figure out where it was taken (either because the information is provided or by simply asking), and show up at the place.

This is, sadly, a two-way street. Yes, the person who posted the photo wasn't inviting this kind of attention, but garnering attention was the point of publishing the picture.

Co-writer/director Matt Spicer's movie is a two-way warning. It's a warning about sharing too much information online, lest the wrong type of person take advantage of the specific details of that person's life, and it's a warning about latching on people who share too much information online. There's a certain type of person who wants to exist as a public persona—to achieve fame, not by accomplishments, but by putting forth an image of achievement, whether real or invented, for all to see.

Spicer and David Branson Smith's screenplay never justifies Ingrid's behavior, although it slightly diminishes the severity of her actions by pointing out their absurdity. It does come close to excusing her behavior by giving the character a sad story that attempts to make her sympathetic. She's lonely, you see, so of course she wants people whom she can call friends. It's irrelevant whether she never learned how to make friends, on account of the sad back story, or she has some psychological problems that go back further in her life, because the movie isn't concerned with psychology. It's satire with a dispiriting measure of reality. Spicer and Smith's bite is as rough on the target of Ingrid's stalking as it is on Ingrid herself—maybe even rougher.

That's saying something, because the movie opens with Ingrid assaulting someone. She's going through wedding pictures and videos that a woman has posted to her social media account. A furious Ingrid throws on clothes, drives to the place where the reception is being held, and unleashes a dose of pepper spray on the bride for not inviting her. We later learn that, while Ingrid believed she and bride were friends, the woman only commented on a single picture on Ingrid's social media profile.

After some time in a psychiatric facility, Ingrid returns home, where she cared for her ailing mother until her death, and immediately starts browsing the photo site again. Her new, prospective best friend is Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen), an amateur photographer whom Ingrid discovers in a flattering magazine article. She starts following Taylor's account, asks about a picture of some avocado toast that the internet star posts (after typing and retyping multiple variations on the message), and gets a response. The toast came from a certain restaurant that Ingrid definitely should check out when she's in town.

That's enough of invitation for Ingrid. She cashes out the inheritance her mother left and drives to Venice Beach to meet her new "best friend."

The shift in sympathies is subtle, if a little too predictable with the loaded, dead-parent situation. At first, Taylor seems fine—a popular, enthusiastic, and nice woman who simply might be a little naïve about the way she uses social media. Ingrid stakes out Taylor's favorite places, and when she realizes that she's too scared to talk to the stranger, she hides behind a tree across the street from Taylor's house, waiting for her and her husband Ezra (Wyatt Russell) to leave. Ingrid steals the couple's dog and then calls them when they put up missing posters. A grateful Taylor invites her to stay for dinner, and they become friends.

That's when the movie essentially becomes a duel between which of the two is worse: the manipulative but wounded Ingrid or the spoiled and phony Taylor. It seems like an unfair choice, especially since Ingrid's attempts to get closer to Taylor involve playing with the emotions of her landlord Dan (O'Shea Jackson Jr.) and, later, going to an extreme to get Taylor's drug-addicted brother Nicky (Billy Magnussen) out of the picture. We're always certain of how Spicer and Smith view Taylor, a fake person who puts on airs of kindness, intelligence, and entrepreneurship (She wants to open a boutique that would be like her social media account—but, like, all the stuff would be for sale). Only a few people know her well, but those few don't like her much.

Where the screenwriters stand on Ingrid, though, becomes harder to decipher, especially once the other shoe drops about what she has been doing. The ambivalence is both appreciated, since one could take the finale as a hint that Ingrid has become an even worse product of social media, and frustrating, because the other possibility is that Spicer and Smith are letting her off the hook (After all, at least one character, who definitely has no reason to forgive her, does). Ingrid Goes West, then, is an incisive satire of online obsession that falls short in one, vital regard: clarity of purpose.

Copyright © 2017 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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