Director Matt Spicer's Ingrid Goes West is the proper satire that cinema has needed to properly capture the current age of social media. Dabbling in a bit of Bret Easton Ellis and A Clockwork Orange, the movie weaves a narrative around modern celebrity vapidity and Instagram-driven insanity, and pulls off the key trick of being bitingly funny while also sharply dramatic. Brought to life by tremendous lead and supporting performances, the script is ultimately the true star... but therein rests a particular problem. For as incisive and gonzo as the material is, you're also left wishing that it featured bolder, more stylistic decisions in its direction and aesthetic.
Based on a script co-written by Matt Spicer and David Branson Smith, the film tells the story of the titular Ingrid Thorburn (Aubrey Plaza), a lonely young woman recently released from a mental institution who has her own special way of acquiring friends. Perceiving lives better lived than her own on the internet, she develops particular obsessions with individuals and then goes to extreme lengths to ingratiate herself into their lives. This is the path that Ingrid takes when she reads an article about Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen), a Los Angeles-based social media influencer whose life outwardly appears to be all about fun adventures in Joshua Tree, playtime with her dog, experimenting with new trends, and intimate personal time with her artist husband, Ezra (Wyatt Russell).
Taking the $60,000 left to her by her deceased mother, Ingrid spontaneously moves across the country to be closer to Taylor, in hopes of becoming her best friend -- and crazy enough, it's a plan that works. Stalking Taylor's every move on Instagram, she starts by eating at all of the same restaurants and shopping at the same stores, but ultimately finds a bit of dog-napping to be her way in. Before long, Taylor is treating Ingrid like a best friend and sharing her innermost thoughts, but all the while, Ingrid struggles not to be buried under her ever-growing mountain of lies.
The film's satirical target is obvious, but Ingrid Goes West still wonderfully captures, analyzes and exposes fantastic perspectives on social media and the psychology that drives it. It takes the idea that Instagram doesn't showcase our lives, but instead just our best lives, and wonderfully expounds upon it -- both looking at it as a mask and being straight-up phony. All the while, its blend of tones and ever-escalating plot keep you entirely engaged with the story, even as you find yourself never quite rooting for the protagonist.
Of course, the reason you're not cheering on Ingrid is because she's extremely broken, and what she's doing is totally wrong -- but that shouldn't undercut what is really a fantastic and incredibly human performance from Aubrey Plaza (who seems to be becoming a stronger and stronger actor with every new role). Likewise, Elizabeth Olsen does tremendous work with a challenging part, bringing layers to an outwardly shallow character -- but the true scene-stealer can actually be found in the supporting cast. O'Shea Jackson Jr. is featured in his first film since Straight Outta Compton, playing Ingrid's 420-friendly, Batman-obsessed landlord, and operates as a comedic highlight of every scene he's in -- particularly as his relationship with his new tenant draws him into more extreme situations.
Still, the movie is missing a particular punch, and it's a lacking in the style department. This isn't to say that Ingrid Goes West is poorly shot, as it actually does incorporate sly uses of 1:1 framing a la Instagram photos, and there are numerous stunningly beautiful sequences, particularly in Joshua Tree. The problem is that it also doesn't try anything too bold or risky, which is an issue particularly because the door is wide open for it. The story is entirely driven from Ingrid's perspective (she is featured in every single scene), and given that Ingrid is more than a bit unhinged, there is a certain license given for big swings that the film never takes advantage of. It's easy to point to the small size of the production and the fact that Matt Spicer is making his feature directorial debut with the movie, but those are simply handicaps you wish that the finished product were better able to overcome.
Ingrid Goes West ultimately isn't fully the film that you want it to be, but the fact that it so clearly has something to say and expresses it so well narratively still makes it an easy movie to appreciate. Moreover, it firmly establishes Matt Spicer as a talent to keep a close eye on, as with a bit more confidence, he could start telling some more truly fantastic big screen stories.