Ingrid Goes West is a vapid hot mess: but maybe that’s the point
Some films are so well written, so beautifully shot and so awe-inspiring that only committed contrarians could possibly claim to dislike them. We’re thinking here of the likes of Amélie, Casablanca, and The Shawshank Redemption.
Ingrid Goes West is not that sort of movie. Instead, it’s a highly problematic, cringe-inducing hot mess. It could be worth showing to teens (or adults) in your life whose smartphones seem to be glued to their hands… assuming they’re not prone to taking the wrong messages from things. But more on that later.
As the title suggests, Ingrid Goes West tells the story of a woman named Ingrid who moves to Los Angeles on the west coast of the US. Ingrid’s mother has recently died, leaving her the inheritance that makes her move possible. The impetus for the move, meanwhile, is Ingrid’s recent release from a psychiatric institution, her stint the result of some extremely bad, extremely public, behaviour.
Ingrid, it turns out, has a bit of a problem with social media. Right up front we’re shown that Ingrid’s woes stem from her having stalked a socially successful stranger online, culminating in Ingrid turning up to – and attempting to ruin – said stranger’s wedding. Yikes.
A new start is required, and now with the means to get it, Ingrid heads to LA and reinvents herself in the image of her online idols… except, it turns out that Ingrid’s old ways are hard to shake, and she soon picks a new mark: influencer and Instagram darling, Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen).
Being the best is the worst
The titular Ingrid is played by Aubrey Plaza, who rose to fame as the wonderfully sulky, deadpan and antisocial April Ludgate in Parks and Recreation – the irresistible foil to Amy Poehler’s insufferably optimistic and enthusiastic character Leslie Knope.
Plaza plays dark (and possibly deranged) incredibly well. So much so, that in the few moments her character tries to drop the artifice and act like an actual person, it’s tough to believe.
If you like Plaza’s brand of dark comedy you might be willing to forgive some of the missteps of Ingrid Goes West. One of the worst is the denouement, which some viewers might see an an invitation for mimicry, rather than take as the warning it’s intended to be.
That’s not to say Ingrid Goes West is wholly bereft of charm. Wyatt Russell puts in a solid performance as Taylor’s long-suffering Instagram husband and gets some of the most poignant lines, like when he bemoans the hyperbole that tends to permeate every part of influencer life where every event, meal or interaction is “the best”.
“It’s not the best,” Ezra says to Ingrid in a moment of end-of-the-party despair and alcohol-induced insight and honesty. “It’s exhausting.”
Another redeeming performance comes from O’Shea Jackson Jr, who in his role as Ingrid’s LA neighbour-cum-landlord Dan gets to be the only truly likeable character on screen.
Even his obsession with the Val Kilmer-led – and universally panned – movie Batman Forever manages to be endearing rather than twee (though only just).
Dan exists so that we can be shown that, in her efforts to please people not worth pleasing, Ingrid abuses the goodwill of everyone else and fails to recognise – let alone appreciate – the only genuine people in her life.
He draws the short straw repeatedly, and his persistent loyalty is another instance of the shark-jumping all too common in Ingrid Goes West, but he’s hard not to love.
Ultimately, Ingrid Goes West is almost as vapid as the culture and people it’s sending up. But then, perhaps that’s the point.