By Carl Kozlowski *
Social media addiction is a growing problem among Americans, and the new movie “Ingrid Goes West” offers a dark satire about that sad state of affairs. A woman who leads an utterly empty life by spending her days obsessively searching for “likes” and the new postings of those with a large number of followers, Ingrid could be any one of the millions constantly staring down at their smartphones rather than interacting with the world at large.
Directed by Matt Spicer in his feature debut, “Ingrid” skillfully pulls off an extremely difficult balancing act. On the one hand, it’s about mostly awful people, none of whom viewers should want to root for. On the other, it is taking point-blank critical aim at their behavior in a way that is often funny in spite of itself – and switches gears effectively into some serious moments depicting these actions as mentally disturbed behavior.
The movie kicks off with Ingrid (Aubrey Plaza) crashing a wedding reception and macing the bride in the eyes for not inviting her, an action that results in a quick trip to a mental hospital. The idea is to break her psychotic rage and her obsession with Instagram – because she only knew the bride by manipulating her way into her life after meeting her via the site, and never should have expected to be invited to the wedding in the first place.
Ingrid quickly winds up in a mental hospital until she seems to resolve her social-media obsession. Yet upon her release, Ingrid finds another friend on Instagram: a woman named Taylor (Elizabeth Olsen) who is living a seemingly glamorous life in Los Angeles.
Cashing in a $60,000 inheritance from her late mother, Ingrid abruptly moves to LA to stalk Taylor and worm her way into her life. She rents a house in Taylor’s Venice neighborhood from a too-trusting guy named Dan (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) and steals Taylor’s dog in order to meet her when she returns it.
The two become fast friends, although Taylor is unaware that Ingrid is an entirely fake person. With Taylor herself living a false and vacuous existence in which her every move is photographed for Instagram since her “career” involves promoting products in her pictures, they are a seemingly perfect match.
But as Taylor’s husband and sleazy brother start to wonder about Ingrid’s odd behavior and notice her stories don’t add up, she winds up roping the unwitting Dan into her schemes. Her determination to avoid being caught and to grow ever closer to Taylor and her fame escalates into a surprisingly violent turn of events and eventually some serious consequences.
“Ingrid” centers on a woman who is clearly disturbed and engages in morally abhorrent behavior towards everyone around her. Pushy, deceptive and manipulative, she is the worst person in a circle of people whose lives are shallowly centered on the empty allure of fame, and living lazy lives in which the most positive character is constantly smoking marijuana.
Over the course of the film, Ingrid uses cocaine with Taylor, hatches a kidnapping plot that goes extremely awry, and engages in seduction to get what she wants – and that’s just the half of it, with plenty of foul language also clouding it. As mentioned before, the film manages to create a unique tone in which much of this manages to be humorous yet critical on a secular artistic level, but when looking at things from a moral point of view, it’s unfortunately unacceptable.
It’s a shame, since the topic of social-media addiction and how it’s affecting our ability to form healthy relationships is one that is worthy and definitely timely. But there is definitely a point in which the depiction of corrupt behavior can corrupt the viewer’s sense of moral reasoning as well, and “Ingrid” crosses it.
Plaza shows genuine talent here, both for energetic comedy and in showing the broken person buried beneath the surface of Ingrid. Jackson shows a lot of charm, with a deeply rooted kindness under Dan’s surface as well, while Olsen is solid at portraying a vacuous person with a falsely glamorous life.
“Ingrid Goes West” is trying to be a morality play for our extremely misguided times, but features so much immorality along the way to its conclusion that Catholics should probably head in another direction.