Thematically rich and brimming with social poignancy, Ingrid Goes West asserts an important message – only to betray it with a bizarre and clumsy final sequence.
Ingrid Thorburn (Aubrey Plaza) has recently been released from an institution following her assault on a girl from instagram whom she had obsessively idolised. With her mother’s recent death lingering in her mind, Ingrid finds a new idol: Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen), a glamorous photographer. Becoming more attached to the idea of being friends with Taylor, Ingrid uses $60,000 left to her by her mother to travel to California. It’s not long before Ingrid has primed herself to become best friends with Taylor. However, Ingrid’s motives and desperation for friendship begin to become all too clear. Tensions rise between Ingrid and Taylor’s circle of shallow companions. Deception, blackmail, and self-harm all bubble to the surface.
Writers David Branson Smith and Matt Spicer sprinkle the script with millennial vernacular, and when used sparingly this is to great comedic effect. The film’s opening makes comical use of a barrage of Instagram hash-tags; at once both funny in its cultural immediacy and sharp in its satirisation of online presentation. However, a sprinkling quickly becomes a smothering. Indeed, one such reference to the game Cards Against Humanity feels so disingenuous and forced that one finds themselves imagining the kind of awkward board meetings where executives struggle to identify what ‘hip’ millennials spend their time doing. To this end, the cultural signifiers of 2017 are likely to date the film somewhat as time goes on.
Ingrid Goes West maintains powerful messages about inclusion, exclusion, how we define ourselves, and our desperate need for social acceptance. The film’s over-reliance on trendy millennial vernacular may date its presentation, but its underlying meaning will likely resonate long after the majority of audiences forget what #romancevibes means. In fact, despite such clunky use of Internet savvy language, placing the film’s narrative within such a context serves the film well.
With Instagram and other sites giving us the opportunity to present a tailored iteration of ourselves to the world (for better or worse) they serve as a brilliant medium for the narrative to address issues of inclusion and exclusion. Taylor Sloane’s circle of friends becomes evermore shallow as the film progresses. It becomes clear that Taylor’s friendship to Ingrid is far from unique – just another iteration of the enthusiastically meaningless affection afforded to all of her circle. Ingrid falls prey to the allure of their aesthetically pleasing façade, and in turn is hit hard with how little their real selves care about her. Through the lens of social media, Ingrid Goes West addresses the toxic fallout of desperately wanting to be included but being rejected and ostracised. The film speaks to the insidious torment that comes with hope for inclusion but falling short.
Aubrey Plaza constructs her performance as Ingrid Thorburn with a repressed sadness. Like so many suffering with mental health issues, Ingrid hides hers as best she can. Her mask is of cool indifference and passive enjoyment. Plaza carries the progression of Ingrid’s character arc admirably. Towards the film’s climax, Plaza’s skill shines through wonderfully. In a heart-wrenching moment that best encapsulates the film’s comments on social insignificance, Plaza’s performance hits a little too close to home. As this particular scene draws to its end, the weight that we as people carry in the façades we construct becomes unavoidable.
However, everything – literally, everything – that Ingrid Goes West strives to say is betrayed by the film’s end sequence. In a scene that feels as necessary as pineapple on pizza (it’s a crime, end of), Ingrid is essentially rewarded for her behavior throughout the film – in the worst possible way. A word of warning, minor spoilers appear from here on. Having realised how frightened and alone she is trying to make people love her, Ingrid finds herself inundated with millions of new followers praising her on Instagram. Nothing she has learnt about the shallow guise of online validation seems to have stuck. All of the grief, all of the desperation, all of the self-loathing, none of it matters because now she’s got all the acceptance she needs…online…from where her initial problems arose. If this ending was cut – and reasonably it could be – then Ingrid Goes West would be a much more satisfying and more nuanced film. This ending jarringly undermines a message that, up until this point, the film has carried with grace. The ending of Ingrid Goes West carries that message with as much grace as a mime having a stroke – see? We can make Cards Against Humanity references too…
Ingrid Goes West will be released into UK cinemas on the 17th of November 2017.