The saturation of social media within our society may be celebrated by some for bringing us all closer together, but as Matt Spicer demonstrates with his sardonically incisive directorial debut, a life lived online isn’t always one big party.
Indeed, for twenty-something Ingrid (Aubrey Plaza), it’s nothing but a platform to help accentuate her own isolation. We meet her sat in a car, sobbing uncontrollably as she fanatically scans the account of a “friend” on Instagram who married just hours earlier. Dismayed at having not been invited to the wedding, Ingrid rocks up to the reception, confronts the bride, and maces her in retaliation… Only later do we discover that their friendship amounted to little more than the newly wed commenting on one of Ingrid’s recent posts.
Ingrid represents a generation of image-obsessed millennials who are driven by their own vain thirst for attention, and believe that their digital life is, if anything, more important than their actual one. What motivates her, ultimately, is the hollow sense of personal affirmation that comes from connecting with a far more popular online personality. And so it goes that when Instafamous LA darling Taylor (Elizabeth Olsen) leaves an innocuous reply on one of Ingrid’s posts, it’s read as an invitation of friendship, leading Ingrid to take the money left to her by deceased mum and head west to California, in search of her new obsession.
Spicer delights in dryly mocking modern California; a sun-soaked dreamland captured in sandy, washed-out hues, and populated by sparky, creative hipsters (including O’Shea Jackson Jr., bringing charm and humour as Ingrid’s Batman-obsessed boyfriend, Dan) who chow down on avocado toast and cauliflower samosas that’s served to them by waiters who ask how they may “nourish you today”. But the film is arguably at its best when skewering today’s social media trends, be it the use of inane hash tags, or such vacuous, life affirming statements as “the couple that yoga together, stay together”.
A tonally unhinged script – co-written by Spicer, with the help of David Branson Smith – does occasionally knock the film off balance, particularly as it draws towards its Black Mirror-esc finale, but it never undercuts the film’s impressively bleaker edges. For all the fun it has satirising the ever-emerging online epidemic, its greatest strengths lie in the darker explorations of how such addictions to social media can be mentally disparaging, and even a catalyst to depression. While Olsen shines as the superficially affectionate Taylor, it’s Plaza who catches our eye: Ingrid’s abrasive demeanour acting as a veil to disguise the pain and fragile instability we often glimpse as she stalks her Instafriends with an almost maniacal devotion. She’s a complex character, but one that’s uncomfortably easy to recognise in today’s world, and Plaza carries the role with an acute honesty that almost appears effortless.
Ingrid Goes West is in cinemas Friday 17th November