29 January 2017

Sundance 2017: Intriguing Cautionary Comedy in 'Ingrid Goes West'

Sundance 2017: Intriguing Cautionary Comedy in 'Ingrid Goes West'


What a weird film this is. Ingrid Goes West is an indie comedy from director Matt Spicer, making his feature directorial debut. It's about a self-centered, vain woman obsessed with Instagram who moves to Los Angeles to chase down, mimic and befriend another Instagram celebrity. Aubrey Plaza plays the deranged woman who has nothing to live for in life except "Likes", so she takes some inheritance money and starts replicating the lifestyle of an internet-famous person living a "perfect" life. While this sounds like it could be a good drama, it's actually a comedy with some wild laughs, even though they're at the expense of people who live obsessive, narcissistic lives. The film is enjoyable overall, but has a few problems that hold it back.
One big issue with Ingrid Goes West is that almost all of the characters are unlikable, terrible people. Plaza's Ingrid Thorburn is clearly mentally disturbed and overly-obsessed with internet fame in a very bad way. Elizabeth Olsen plays the woman she hunts down, who's also worryingly obsessed with living the ultimate "perfect" life doing nothing but promoting crap that companies pay her to take pictures of. Her husband, played by Wyatt Russell, is a talentless weirdo who makes pretentious, overvalued art. Her brother is the worst of the worst, a true asshole. The only good character in the film is Ingrid's landlord/neighbor Dan Pinto, played by O'Shea Jackson Jr., who kind of becomes the hero. It's hard to build a film around so many unlikable characters, but oddly enough it was still quite enjoyable to watch and very amusing at times.
I do appreciate the film's originality, and I like that it's an authentic examination of internet obsession and social media, and the psychological mindset that takes over when this is the most important thing in most people's lives. However, I was hoping for more criticism of this lifestyle and for it to provide lessons to be learned by the end. Instead, everything plays out nice and neat at the end and there's only one line in one scene where Ingrid goes off on how fake Taylor's life is as well. That's it. By this point, you either hate the entire film anyway because none of it is amusing (or it's offensive), or you then feel let down because there isn't much of a worthwhile conclusion or any redemption (for anyone). I understand why they ended it the way they do, but it was lacking more crucial critical commentary. Which it needed to be more memorable.
One of the best parts of Ingrid Goes West is the comedy, and specifically the numerous Batman references peppered throughout. O'Shea Jackson Jr.'s character is a huge Batman fan, so not only are there plenty of jokes making fun of Batman, but it becomes a quirky plot point in a few key scenes. Pretty much anytime something related to Batman was referenced, I was laughing out loud. While Ingrid Goes West is a nerve-wracking cautionary tale, it's also a surprisingly entertaining indie comedy about the obsessive desire for attention in the internet age. Aubrey Plaza gives a fantastic, nuanced performance in the lead role as Ingrid, and made the entire film work. Hopefully after you see this you'll feel weird taking out your phone as much.
Alex's Sundance 2017 Rating: 7 out of 10

Follow Alex on Twitter - @firstshowing
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