Review: 'Ingrid Goes West', Starring Aubrey Plaza, Elizabeth Olsen, and O'Shea Jackson Jr.

Note: This is a reprint of my review from the Sundance Film Festival.

As smart phones took hold in our society, social media quickly became a fabric of our everyday lives. Often, I feel more married to my phone than to any other possession I own. From Facebook to Twitter, Snapchat to Instagram, sharing personal stories or news has become as easy as clicking the share button on our phones. Ingrid Goes West examines the personal toll it takes on us, the obsession one can develop with the personal lives of people online, and what it means to have a self-identity and exist in one’s own reality.

The opening scene of Ingrid Goes West feels like something out of a bizarre horror film. Except it’s real life. We find Ingrid Thorburn (Aubrey Plaza) crying raging tears of hate toward someone she thought was her friend. Ingrid’s growing hatred toward said friend rises as she obsessively goes through picture after picture on her Instagram page and quickly realizes that her friend is currently having her wedding and never bothered to invite Ingrid. After pepper spraying her, Ingrid is next seen at a mental institution, her phone stripped from her. The attention-grabbing scene immediately sets up what kind of person Ingrid is and then sets out to further explore her identity (and sometimes lack thereof).

Once out of the institution, the unstable Ingrid inherits thousands of dollars from her deceased mother. Back to constantly checking and refreshing Instagram only to realize that her friend has put her account on private. We discover later that Ingrid wasn’t friends with her at all, but followed her on Instagram and became obsessed with her life. While reading a magazine highlighting photographer Tyler Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen), Ingrid quickly finds her on Instagram (the social media app is getting prime marketing here) and comments on one of her pictures.

When Tyler responds back, the glint in Ingrid’s eyes comes back and she moves to Venice Beach, California and goes so far as to rent a place in the same neighborhood as Tyler and stalks her to try and forcefully become friends. Once that’s done, Ingrid is living the life and on cloud nine as she and Tyler become attached at the hip. But as soon as Tyler’s brother (Billy Magnussen) shows up, Ingrid’s life and obsessive behavior begins to bleed through the cracks of her faux friendship.  

Ingrid Goes West heavily explores obsession, stalker behavior, and the need to be noticed, both on social media and in real life. It also touches on the duality of online personas versus the ones we lead in real life. This is not to say that some aren’t themselves online, but that the nature of social media often makes people feel like others are living a better life than they are. The film uses Instagram in particular because, unlike Twitter or other social media apps, Instagram is all about the sharing of photos and so is much more personal. Thematically, the film delves into the feelings of watching someone else live a life that looks far more amazing than it perhaps actually is and the reasons behind these feelings.

Ingrid, in her obsession with becoming best friends with Taylor, largely ignores her landlord, Dan Pinto (O’Shea Jackson Jr.), who becomes the only real friend she’s ever had. Dan is someone who genuinely cares for her and we see Ingrid be more of herself when she’s around him. Ingrid later expresses being broken, but she also goes to any length to attach herself to someone who seems like they have the perfect life that she longs for deep down. Ingrid Goes West has elements akin to Fatal Attraction, but it actually has a better message and more fascinating themes.

There is the layered and love/hate friendship between Ingrid and Taylor, and then the obsessive actions being taken. Things get pretty aggressive and desperate for Ingrid before she finally, after opening up and being honest, gets the ending she’s always wanted, but one that isn’t necessarily good or healthy for her. The film also goes out of its way to negate the idea that social media is the end all, be all of interactions and that it doesn’t necessarily mirror people’s actual lives.

Ingrid Goes West is a film that you’ll think about for a while after watching it. It plays to the more unexamined aspect of social media, but instead of pointing the blame on social media itself, it turns its eyes and examines the people behind the screens of their phones. Ingrid is obviously mentally unstable, lonely, and extremely insecure, and that plays a large part in the way her character views Instagram and defines her actions and development throughout the film.

The film explores the darker aspect of our feelings as we click through others’ photos. Do we wish we were them? Do we wish to befriend those we follow because we think they’re somehow better? Do we sometimes feel lesser about our lives because of it? Maybe. The grass is always greener on the other side, right? But Ingrid Goes West doesn’t necessarily take very healthy views of Instagram in particular and director and co-writer Matt Spicer obviously wanted to explore that sense of obsession and needing to constantly check and be a part of the life we see online. For the most part, the film finds fascinating ways to do so even though it might take it too far to get its point across.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5