'Ingrid Goes West'
Every day, social media provides new and exciting opportunities for humiliation. The services have made communication easier and invented all new forms of public shame. It only makes sense that cringe comedies would thrive in this era. If ‘Ingrid Goes West’ isn’t the best to emerge from this culture, it’s at least one of the most insightful.
Aubrey Plaza stars as the titular Ingrid (who does indeed go west, spoiler alert). She’s introduced in a sequence in which she storms into a wedding and pepper-sprays the bride for not inviting her. We quickly learn that Ingrid barely knew the woman beyond once sharing a high school hallway with her. Rather than learning a lesson, Ingrid quickly gets at it again, bigger and better. Her new target is a vapid yet well-meaning Instagram influencer named Taylor (Elizabeth Olsen). Determined to become Taylor’s best friend, Ingrid cashes out her recent inheritance, flies to L.A. and starts doing everything Taylor flaunts on Instagram. She also rents a room with a wannabe screenwriter obsessed with Batman (O’Shea Jackson, Jr.) for an extra and easy satirical target. Then the unthinkable happens; Ingrid actually befriends Taylor and her husband (Russell Wyatt) because all that Insta star is looking for is someone to agree with her every word and whim. Unfortunately, Taylor is also happy to ditch new friends for anyone with more followers, so this story isn’t destined to end happily.
The subjects of satire in ‘Ingrid Goes West’ are pretty easy. Vapid L.A. self-promotion is hardly new, nor are the sad folks obsessed with that lifestyle. The difference is the social media setting, which is enough to make it feel fresh again. The script by David Branson Smith and Matt Spicer (which won a prize at Sundance before production) is filled with the type of specificity that comes from writers who know their subject. Taylor’s big dumb fantasy life and her husband’s hilariously awful art career (he takes dollar store paintings and adds internet speak to them like “#SquadGoals”) are embarrassing in ways that send shivers up the spine during laughs. The script nails a certain type of make-believe cultured posing mixed with self-absorption, and the fact that Ingrid is so enamored with it makes it worse. Elsewhere, douchey bros and screenwriting delusions of grandeur are skewered just as accurately. It’s a poisoned portrait of a corner of Los Angeles that these filmmakers know all too well.
The biting script attracted an impressive cast who nail their roles. As Ingrid, Plaza ditches her millennial eye-rolling routine in favor of a chilly mix of psychosis and sociopathology that’s impressively real without losing a sense of comedic exaggeration. Olsen and Russell are absolutely hysterical as hopeless wannabes who somewhere deep down inside are all too aware of their mediocrity. Even the less well-rounded characters are given endearing performances by the likes of Jackson and Bill Magnussen (whose douchebro parody could withstand a spinoff). Director Matt Spicer cast brilliantly, gave his performers the freedom they needed, and then shot the movie with just the right deadpan distance.
The movie almost doesn’t feel like a comedy in its cinematic construction. If anything, it’s shot like a psychological thriller in postcard locations. As the weird tale hums along, the satire and psychosis get darker and darker. Like ‘Observe and Report’ or ‘Welcome to Me’, ‘Ingrid Goes West’ is a child of Martin Scorsese’s ‘The King of Comedy’, a deadpan dark satire so far ahead of its time that only in the last decade have other “cult of celebrity” comedies caught up.
Unfortunately, that comparison might rank ‘Ingrid Goes West’ amongst the most insightful comedies in recent years, but it also pretty much ensures cult success is the best possible outcome. The film is too alienating and harsh to appeal to a broad audience and also a little too funny and sketchy to be a breakout critical success. The dark comedy will slowly build up an audience over time as social media celebrities fade and falter, while their fans grow up and realize how idiotic it all was. Until then, this bitter little pill will be passed around among a knowing crowd like a secret handshake.