Director: Matt Spicer
Starring: Aubrey Plaza, Elizabeth Olsen, O’Shea Jackson, Jr.
The term “Instagram stalker” brings to mind a girl huddled over her phone, scrolling through photos of her “Insta-crush” – an image that’s weird, but harmless. Director and co-writer Matt Spicer utterly crushes this image with his first feature film, “Ingrid Goes West.” The comedy-drama follows a mentally-disturbed woman who decides to take her Instagram stalking offline.
When we first meet Ingrid (Aubrey Plaza), she’s glued to her phone, scrolling through an estranged friend’s Instagram posts. It quickly becomes clear that Ingrid is alone in life; with her mother’s recent passing she has no immediate family or friends. When she finds Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen) on Instagram, a young woman cataloging her perfect life in Los Angeles on social media, Ingrid decides that she is meant to be this girl’s best friend. Taking the $60,000 in cash left for her by her mother, Ingrid jets off to LA to meet her friend-to-be.
The best way to picture Ingrid as a character is to imagine a young woman who grew up in a world in which her only manner of socializing was through social media. This woman doesn’t know the normal way to make friends – making friends through strangers on Instagram is her version of normal. She doesn’t want to mingle with strangers in real life, a truth that emerges once she begins dodging any kind of social contact with her landlord and love interest, Dan (O’Shea Jackson Jr.), until it is necessary. Before Ingrid makes contact with Taylor in real life, she heavily researches the girl’s Instagram, looking for clues about what Taylor likes. She then fabricates intricate plots using this intel, allowing her to “happen” across Taylor’s path and weasel her way into her life. Matt Spicer, Aubrey Plaza, and co-writer David Branson Smith all deserve admiration for how they’ve written and portrayed Ingrid. Spicer and Smith do a grand job with this complex character, allowing her to share information about herself. However, she’s also a compulsive liar, so the audience can’t trust the integrity of the information, making her an antihero. At the end of the film, we wonder if we actually know anything about Ingrid at all. Plaza, who was also instrumental as a producer, gives her best performance to date. Despite her beloved role on “Parks and Recreation” as April Ludgate, her recent movie roles have been in trashy comedies like “Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates.” It’s fantastic to see her get a chance to show off her skills as an actor in a role that’s just as much comedic as it is dramatic.
In truth, the role of Ingrid feels as though it were written for Aubrey Plaza. Although she’s the clear star of the film, the rest of the cast is equally as talented and well-matched for their respective roles.
Spicer has taken a rather simple concept, one that’s been used before, and put a completely new spin on it. Modern films about stalking usually involve a bit of social media creeping, but never do they center around it. “Ingrid Goes West” is, innately, a tumultuous ode to social media. Although many of Ingrid’s actions horrify the audience, they cause a spark of recognition equally as often. Whenever Ingrid gets any small amount of engagement from Instagram – when someone likes her photo, or replies to her comment – her face lights up. Although we may not react as enthusiastically when get positive engagement on social media, we’re familiar with that quickly passing sensation of bliss we get when someone likes our photo. Spicer emphasizes the normality of this further when he introduces Harley Chung (Pom Klementieff), a social media influencer with an even larger following than Taylor’s, making her Taylor’s version of a celebrity. We quickly realize that despite Taylor’s large Instagram following, she’s enchanted and starstruck by being in the presence of someone with an even bigger following.
Ultimately, Spicer’s point is that we all have a little bit of Ingrid within us. Sure, we won’t go across the country in search of an Instagrammer we’ve never met, but on a lesser scale we can relate to her experiences. It’s the nature of social media, perfectly captured in one hilarious film.