"Ingrid Goes West" is an ideal vehicle for Aubrey Plaza, in that it taps into everything we know she can do and challenges her to do other things that she hasn't done before.
This is a comic actress who is particularly good playing people who are trying to get away with something, whose manner suggests one thing but whose eyes tell us something else. Here she gets to play that situation in virtually every scene — to comic effect, mostly, but with moments of drama seeping in, as well.
This is an assured first feature film from director and co-writer Matt Spicer, who is 33 and thus young enough to understand the social media bubble that his lead character inhabits. At the start of the film, Ingrid (Plaza) is boiling over with rage, as she sits in a car and looks at a friend's Instagram entries. We soon realize that she is parked outside the wedding of that friend. Ingrid gets out, marches up to the bride, who is horrified to see her, and sprays her with mace.
Ingrid is an internet stalker. She develops obsessions for people that she sees online and tries to insinuate herself into their world. Following a stint in a mental institution, she discovers a new woman-crush while thumbing through a magazine — Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen), whose career consists of getting free products and services and then boosting them online. This is hardly a glamour job — it's barely a job at all — but Taylor has almost 300,000 Instagram followers, and so Ingrid idolizes her.
› Rating: R
› Running time: 97 minutes
Ingrid becomes so obsessed that she takes a modest inheritance from her mother and uses it to move to Los Angeles, where Taylor lives. How Ingrid contrives to meet and befriend Taylor becomes the story of the movie.
To the filmmakers' credit, the characters are individual enough to provoke a complex response that is in no way ambiguous. Taylor is confident and enviable, and yet in some ways she is as much a poseur as Ingrid.
Ingrid is a creep and a disease of the internet, but we see the movie through her eyes and recognize the purity of her need for acceptance.
Plaza is fascinating here, a bottomless well of insecurity that approaches even the most casual social encounter as though there were a trapdoor under her feet and ready to drop. She makes it all funny, of course, but she stays real in the feeling of it, so that she isn't commenting on people like Ingrid but embodying Ingrid's pain. This makes her sympathetic and funny, as well as unsettling and strange.
Such a performance is not just about acting, but direction, and it can be said that all the performances here are in service of a specific vision. This includes O'Shea Jackson Jr. and Billy Magnussen, who are especially right in their supporting roles, as Ingrid's easy-going boyfriend and Taylor's vicious brother, respectively.
Spicer knows exactly what he wants in this, and as the movie plays on, we realize that what he wants is worth achieving. He takes "Ingrid Goes West" to unexpected places that, in the end, not only feel right, but true. Uncomfortably true.