Mundane Obsession, by Bob Connally

28 Aug

Like its title character, Ingrid Goes West is a movie that will be dismissed and rejected by many. What many will understandably find difficult is that it defies easy categorization. Not content with simply being a dark comedy about a mentally and emotionally troubled young woman named Ingrid (Aubrey Plaza), it’s a film that dares to turn its cell phone camera back at us and we may not like what we see. From early on it feels reminiscent of Martin Scorsese’s The King of Comedy in that we in the audience may recognize parts of Rupert Pupkin or Ingrid Thorburn in people we know or maybe, to our discomfort, in ourselves.

After not being invited to the wedding of a woman she follows on Instagram, Ingrid arrives at the reception to spray the bride’s eyes with mace. After briefly getting treatment at a mental hospital, Ingrid quickly finds a new object to direct her unhealthy obsessions towards. 3000 miles from Ingrid’s Pennsylvania home is Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen), a young celebrity who appears to only be famous from the life she presents on social media with her pop artist husband Ezra (Wyatt Russell, 22 Jump Street). After Taylor responds to an overthought comment Ingrid makes on an Instagram post, Ingrid takes the entirety of the inheritance left to her by her recently deceased mother to move to Los Angeles to become Taylor’s best friend.

The first feature from director Matt Spicer, Ingrid Goes West is written by Spicer and David Branson Smith. What is most impressive about the film is the exact thing that will likely keep many from embracing it. Most filmmakers with this premise would have simply presented Ingrid as an unsympathetic psychopath for the audience to judge while Taylor would have been seen as the likable, unwitting victim for us to not only side with but relate to. Instead, without ever trying to justify any of Ingrid’s actions or stalker mentality, Spicer and Smith show sensitivity to her deeply sad and troubled state.

For her part, Plaza is excellent as Ingrid. In her years on Parks and Recreation, Plaza provided depth to what could have been a funny but one note character to make April Ludgate something more. Here, she makes Ingrid a sympathetic character, not through trying to make her more likable but by allowing us to see where Ingrid’s mindset comes from. We see that while we may (certainly hopefully) not do the outrageous and often horrifying things she does, there’s a starting point that a great many of us will recognize. Ingrid doesn’t begin with a desire to hurt anybody, physically or emotionally. She is a lonely person who wants a friend and to feel accepted. While the movie certainly shows the dark side of social media and how easily people can use it to feed their obsessions, it’s more interested in human desires that were around long before Instagram and will exist long after that site’s users will have moved on to whatever’s replaced it.

Part of what keeps the audience on Ingrid’s side is we see just how much of a fraud Taylor is. While her husband is something of a clown, Ezra at least seems to be genuine and like Ingrid he has no use for Taylor’s horrendous brother Nicky (Billy Magnussen, Bridge of Spies). It’s been a while since a film has featured a character so punchable. The main difference between Ingrid and people like Taylor and Nicky is that while they all use people to make themselves feel more important, the Taylor’s and Nicky’s of the world use people they feel are beneath them to feel superior. They use people like Ingrid up and dispose of them when they find someone they’re more interested in. While Ingrid could ultimately get the professional help she really needs to become well-adjusted, Taylor and Nicky will remain awful people without a trace of self-awareness and will never realize that they need to change anything about themselves.

Only one character in the film truly accepts Ingrid for who she is and doesn’t seem interested in using anybody. Her landlord Dan (O’Shea Jackson Jr., Straight Outta Compton) is an aspiring screenwriter with a deep-seated love of all things Batman. He sees Ingrid’s oddness (which granted, can’t be missed), but all he asks is that she not bring any dogs into her apartment due to his allergies. Many of the film’s funniest and most memorable scenes are between Ingrid and Dan with Plaza and Jackson sharing an endlessly watchable chemistry.

Ingrid Goes West is not an easy movie to watch but it is a rewarding one for those willing to accept that it doesn’t stick to an easily identifiable tone or genre and more importantly, for those willing to take an honest look at themselves. It’s unique, uncomfortable, funny, dark, sad, and filled with human truth. The ending will not doubt be debated even amongst those who like the film. I’m still not sure how I feel about it and the message it may be sending but it’s a conversation worth having and maybe that’s the point. This is not a movie for everyone but it does have something to say to all of us that is worth hearing.

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