“Ingrid Goes West” takes psychological disorders and social media and puts them into a pressure cooker to give us a cringe-worthy and disturbing look at today’s world through the eyes of a misguided and floundering young woman, Ingrid played by Aubrey Plaza. Written by Matt Spicer and also starring Elizabeth Olsen, the film creates a controversial message regarding mental illness and society’s unintentional reinforcement of unwanted behavior. While it’s a dark comedy, the darkness may be too much for many.
Ingrid explodes like a volcano at her friend’s wedding, embarrassing herself and ruining much of the reception. This outburst lands her in a psychiatric ward, giving her the tools necessary to return to “normal” life. Upon her release, she is thrust back into the everyday occurrences complete with stares, jeers, and comments from her judgmental acquaintances. Fleeing to L.A. to literally follow Taylor Sloane (Olsen) who is an Instagram sensation, Ingrid’s obsessive behaviors get the better of her and the following becomes more stalking until she is invited into Taylor’s inner circle. The means to the end find her spiraling out of control as one lie after another creates a more tangled web of deceit.
Spicer has an undeniable skill in developing intensely awkward situations making you want to look away, but you can’t. You have to see what happens next. While his characters certainly represent specific groups or types of people, they certainly are not one dimensional. Plaza continues her rather bizarre persona as Ingrid, perfectly suited to her acting style. However, there is a subtlety to her portrayal that makes us have sympathy for her situation. The sadness and inability to change is evident behind her eyes, but on the surface, we feel and would react exactly like those she encounters.
Ingrid encounters and takes advantage of anyone around her to attain her ultimate goal: to be a part of the popular group. O’Shea Jackson, Jr. plays Dan Pinto, Ingrid’s landlord and naive drug dealing friend. Their relationship is awkward yet sweet, but as the viewer, you always have an insider’s perspective of what will come…and it does. Olsen is simply remarkable in her performance. She is captivating as she confidently portrays the adorable (and lucky) Taylor Sloane who is successful thanks to social media posts. Sound familiar? Olsen and Plaza balance each other like yin-yang, but it is Olsen’s evident innocence that endears us to her character. This female camaraderie with the dark cloud of social pressures and mental illness give this film an entirely unexpected and oftentimes uncomfortable look into young adulthood.
The main character in this film isn’t Ingrid—it’s social media and the pressure it places on young people today. The bullying that occurs as well as the superficiality of it brews a poisonous drink in which so many overindulge. Keeping up with the Joneses has always been difficult, but when it hits you through every social media outlet, it’s impossible to stay true to yourself. ***Here’s a spoiler so stop reading if you want!*** The acknowledgment of depression, obsessive behavior, and mental instability is wonderfully incorporated into this story, but it is the glamorizing of attempted suicide that gives this film a huge red flag. Suicide is not glamorous. It should not be reinforced. And in no way should social media be the outlet for it.
“Ingrid Goes West” is a unique dark comedy that delves into relationships, women, and the pressures of social media. Olsen is a standout with Plaza honing her skills as a “different” and troubled woman. While there is humor in this film, there is also heartbreak with a final message that cannot be condoned. Spicer pushed the envelope on this one and perhaps he pushed it just a bit too far.