Ingrid Goes West Aubrey Plaza, Elizabeth Olsen, O’Shea Jackson Jr. Directed by Matt Spicer. Rated R. Opens Friday in select theaters.
When the title character of Ingrid Goes West first appears onscreen, she’s frantically liking Instagram posts of a picture-perfect wedding that’s still in progress. But she’s neither an attendee nor a distant observer—the camera pulls back to reveal that she’s sitting in her car right outside the wedding reception, which she then crashes in order to mace the bride in the face. It’s not easy to build sympathy after an introduction like that, but director/co-writer Matt Spicer and star Aubrey Plaza manage to make the damaged, often unhinged Ingrid into a sympathetic and frequently funny character, even as she continues to metaphorically mace the people around her in the face.
The opening incident lands Ingrid in court-ordered rehab, but once she’s out she gets right back to her social-media obsession, setting her sights on Instagram star Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen), a beach-dwelling California girl with a seemingly perfect life. Ingrid uses an inheritance from her late mother to move to Venice Beach and insert herself into Taylor’s life, and soon the two are “best friends,” even though both are pathologically phony in their own ways. Spicer and co-writer David Branson Smith score some laughs by poking fun at the modern fixation on social media (with clever juxtapositions of online posts against the actual onscreen action), but the movie isn’t just about taking easy potshots at entitled millennials.
Plaza gives Ingrid a haunted quality that makes good use of the actress’ naturally sardonic demeanor, and the movie explores themes of grief, loneliness and mania that transcend whatever current technology is enabling them. The plot eventually descends into blackmail, kidnapping and potential suicide, and Spicer has trouble wrapping things up convincingly. But his stars (including O’Shea Jackson Jr. as Ingrid’s Batman-superfan neighbor) are charming, even in their characters’ darkest moments, just like a well-curated Instagram account should be.