It’s festival season! The FilmSoc blog is covering the BFI’s 61st London Film Festival (4-15 October), diving into the myriad of films and events on offer to deliver reviews.
Calvin Law reviews Matt Spicer’s hip comedy-drama.
Matt Spicer’s Ingrid Goes West wholeheartedly embraces itself as a film of our times, with the popular social media app Instagram being used as the narrative’s focal point: it is the all-consuming passion of our titular protagonist Ingrid (Aubrey Plaza). Confusing likes and hashtags for genuine affection, the mentally unstable Ingrid moves to Los Angeles and starts a friendship with ‘insta-famous’ darling Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen) that soon spirals out of control. Contrary to what the trailers have sold it as, Ingrid Goes West is not so much a goofy satire of the world of social media, as it is a surprisingly bleak dark comedy, and character study of a troubled and self-image obsessed individual.
The success of the film hinges upon its lead performance, and Plaza, fresh off a very daring performance in FX’s sci-fi series Legion, absolutely delivers. Her Ingrid is not the most approachable character to begin with, pepper spraying one of her Instagram idols for not inviting her to her wedding, and manipulating and stalking her way into Taylor’s life. It should go without saying that the Parks and Recreation alumnus absolutely nails every comedic beat of her rather odd character. The jokes involving her Instagram obsessions, from indulging in photogenic but unappetizing salads to taking snapshots of every aspect of Taylor’s daily routine, are perhaps predictable, but they’re consistently hilarious. As the film takes a darker turn, that she manages remain a consistently likable character is remarkable. Even when her goals and the means to achieve them are more than questionable, you still root and even sympathize with her.
Plaza’s superb performance is what really helps set the darkly comedic tone of the film together, but it slightly falters in other parts. Olsen’s prototypical vapid airhead, who wants everything to appear #amazing and #instabest, and her artificial sweetness is well contrasted with Ingrid’s less assured fabrications and more open emotional honesty. There could have however, been more nuance in exploring Taylor’s obsession with surface perfection, and the cracking apart of a hollow friendship. Creating a sort of All About Eve-esque conflict between the two characters that exposes the ugly imperfections of Taylor to Ingrid could have been fascinating, but the film opts to put a spanner in the works of their friendship with Taylor’s jerk kid brother and drug addict Nicky (Billy Magnussen). The growing rift is still effective and convincing, but the potential seems there for more for Spicer and David Branson Smith’s script to explore, as does the subplot involving Taylor’s husband Ezra (Wyatt Russell) and his discontent with their social media-heavy lifestyle, which never really goes anywhere interesting. The most interesting side character in fact, is Ingrid’s landlord and eventual love interest, Dan (O’Shea Jackson Jr.). His love of all things Batman sets up some of the film’s best one-liners, and Jackson’s chemistry with Plaza establishes a stangely poignant warmth a film that is otherwise, intentionally lacking in heart.
Kinetic cinematography by Bryce Fortner and rapid-fire editing are perfectly suited to the film’s tone and themes, and the 97 minute runtime ensures that it never really loses steam. The film’s ending resolution may prove divisive; Ingrid Goes West resists the urge to make any sort of moral statement on our social media-obsessed world, and may make the final act problematic for some. All in all, though it may not reach the ultimate heights of perfection, it is a solid dark comedy with a terrific lead performance by a perfectly cast Plaza, and some of the year’s funniest scenes and one-liners.
Ingrid Goes West receives its UK premiere on the 7th of October at London Film Festival. It will be released in UK cinemas on November 17th. Check out the trailer below: