This review originally ran in January, 2017 as part of our Sundance coverage. With the film opening in theaters today, we are rerunning the review.
Ingrid Goes West could just as easily be called “That Bitch You Love To Hate,” since that’s basically the jumping off point — one of those bourgie Instagram accounts run by some detestably over-styled and self-satisfied lady-douche who seems to do all the cool things in all the cool places wearing all of the coolest hats. In Ingrid Goes West, our protagonist becomes obsessed with one such account. Aubrey Plaza plays Ingrid, a mentally-ill (but cute and relatable!) 20-something who takes her recent inheritance from a dead mom and moves to California, determined to remake herself in the sun-kissed, peace sign-flashing image of full-time Instagrammer Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen), she of the flowiest blouses, kitschiest sunglasses, most meaningful art, cutest terrier, and most fitting emoji captions.
In this age of aspirational lifestyle blogging, what’s to stop a superfan from taking “I want that life” a little too seriously? Ingrid eventually goes from trying to meticulously copy Taylor’s posts (which, by the way, is something that actually happened) to inserting herself into Taylor’s life through nefarious means. The rub is that Taylor is such a superficial phony that becoming her best friend doesn’t actually take much work. “Oh my God, I love you,” Olsen coos with perfect disingenuousness.
The best part of Ingrid Goes West — directed by Matt Spicer, who co-wrote the script with David Branson Smith — is the perfectly chosen details in its thorough skewering of one-person-lifestyle-brand culture. One early scene sees Ingrid road testing different phonetic renderings of laughter (“hahaha” then “ha ha ha” then “hehehehe” then “heh heh heh” and so forth) in order to leave Taylor the most relatable Instagram comment. Taylor also wears her wedding ring on her right hand, European style, one of many subtle details. The second best part of Ingrid Goes West is how steadfastly it refuses to teach us a lesson, or make its characters learn one. Aubrey Plaza, in her best work to date, plays Ingrid as a sort of psychotically obsessive Big Fan for Instagram. The funny part is, she’s the likable one.
The supporting characters manage to be “out there” and perfectly fitting simultaneously, the unquestionable highlight being O’Shea Jackson (aka Ice Cube Jr.) as Ingrid’s vaping landlord, Dan Pinto, who’s in the process of writing a spec script for a Batman sequel. You know the guy at the pool party in La La Land who says he has a “knack for world building?” That’s basically Dan Pinto, only he’s also super likable. When he holds forth on why Batman is so meaningful to him, he manages to sound both like a perfect parody of bullshit Hollywood junket-ese (“at its heart it’s really a story about family”) and totally earnest. It’s such a magnificent, pitch perfect comedic performance, and the fact that pop culture has Ice Cube’s kid now almost makes up for being force fed Will Smith’s kids.
Taylor, she pretends to read Joan Didion and has a dog named “Rothko.” She eats at restaurants where the waiters ask deep personal questions — which is, again, not even that much of a comedic exaggeration. She’s perfectly that bitch you love to hate but also kind of want to be. Wouldn’t life be so much easier if everything was awesome and stylish and faux-meaningful? What if one could derive existential fulfillment from a tasteful handbag? She’s surrounded by other perfect characters, like Wyatt Russell (in another strong performance) as her slightly pretentious but not quite as phony artist husband, and her entirely believable jetsetting cokehead brother, played by Billy Magnussen.
Ingrid Goes West is such a knowing, perfectly-detailed parody of Taylor’s world that I resisted when the film eventually had to lean on plot. But I was more than won over when the film not only resisted the temptation give us the old “you kids with your smart phones!” lecture, but also when it ended with a textbook example of “no hugging, no learning.”
Ingrid doesn’t preach, and it’s deliciously cruel without ever denying its characters their essential humanity. It has sharp teeth and a big heart — more comedies should be like this.
Ingrid Goes West opens in limited release today before expanding.