“I’m not a psychopath, I just want to be her friend”.
There’s been a lot of talk in the last couple years about the problems social media has created for us, and in the last couple months about “influencer” culture and its problems. Ingrid Goes West, a snappy film about female obsession, takes these problems and gleefully brings them to their extreme endpoint. Open your Instagram now, and tell me how many people with seemingly perfect lives you see after a quick scroll. What would happen if someone wanted so badly to become like these happy, gorgeous women that they tear up the societal rule book? Well, that’s what Ingrid Goes West aims to answer.
Starring the always delightful Elizabeth Olsen and the incomparably weird Aubrey Plaza, this is a black comedy with emphasis on the black. In promotional material I’ve seen, Plaza’s character, Ingrid, is described as “slightly mentally unstable”. This is not the case: Ingrid is terribly unwell, and desperately lonely, so much so that some of the humour the film derives from her is lost. This is a woman who needs serious psychiatric help, but this is Hollywood, so instead, she takes a backpack full of money to sunny LA in pursuit of Taylor Sloane (Olsen), an avocado-toast loving, seemingly perfect Instagram influencer type – you know the ones.
If you’re familiar with the wonderful show Crazy Ex Girlfriend, much of this plot will feel familiar. Ingrid Goes West takes a number of cues from Rachel Bloom’s show as well as from Black Mirror: as well as some older female obsession tropes. The grieving Ingrid latches on to Sloane’s glossy life like a drowning man on a buoy, following in the footsteps of…well, take your pick of obsessed women throughout cinematic history, really. Using her helpfully geo-tagged Instagram pics, Ingrid inserts herself into Taylor’s life immediately, imitating her every move as she tries desperately to become her best friend. And of course it inevitably goes sour – yet the film does creeping dread in a way I never expected. We wait for Ingrid to trip for the entire first and second act, and at times she comes close – one scene out, set in the desert, is an odd combination of horror and full-body cringe. Much of this dread comes from Plaza’s ability to play Ingrid as both vulnerable and terrifying. She would easily go full creepy, but instead, we genuinely feel sorry for Ingrid – and we desperately want to see her get the help she so clearly needs.
The creeping dread and Plaza’s excellent performance ultimately misstep, though. The film’s latter half – containing, among other things, the single weirdest sex scene I have ever seen – doesn’t seem to know quite where it’s headed. Are we taking down Instagram? Is Ingrid the villain or not, here? Does this film want to warn us about the horrors or social media or not? The stakes are never massively high for anyone but Ingrid, and we already know that her issues reach far beyond an addiction to Instagram. The ending of the film is questionable, to say the least – and it left me rolling my eyes. The script remains sharp enough to be entertaining, but the message ultimately remains stuck in the director’s outbox.