When we first meet Ingrid (Aubrey Plaza) in , she's crying over Instagram photos of a wedding, the typical golden filtered, "dream-fulfilled" posts anyone with an IG account has no doubt seen more than enough of. We quickly learn that Ingrid is parked outside that wedding, and instead of the usual eye-roll reactions to the photos most of us might have (and, incidentally, most of Aubrey Plaza's previous characters would have had), Ingrid barges into the reception and maces the bride in the face.
This stunt lands Ingrid a stint in a mental hospital, and once she's out, it's clear she hasn't exactly been cured. Living on a diet of junk food, in an empty house where the death of her mother still lingers in the dusty air, Ingrid continues to obsessively scroll through Instagram, hoping for Instafriendship by leaving comments like "Damn girl, that looks amazing! What's your email address?" on stranger's posts.
Eventually she finds the perfect object for her obsessions, an Instagram "influencer" named Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen) whose @_welltaylored_ account documents her meticulously styled Southern California lifestyle. Ingrid decides to pack the inheritance her mother left her into a backpack and heads west.
Social media makes it easy for Ingrid to stalk Taylor and find out where she gets her hair done, where she shops, where she eats her avocado toast, and where she lives. Thanks to that backpack full of money, Ingrid is able to remake herself in Taylor's image, including renting an apartment in nearby Venice, and through a dog-napping stunt actually befriends her.
Plaza plays against her usual deadpan and sarcastic character type, replacing it with awkwardness and dorky obsession, and it's a welcome change. But what does remain, and I'm not sure Plaza will ever be able to shake this off, is the sense of danger that always seems to be lingering behind her huge eyes. And that works perfectly for Ingrid.
Ingrid Goes West is a comedic thriller that brings to mind similarly obsessed tales like Single White Female, The King of Comedy, and especially Robert Altman's 3 Women, whenever the setting moves to the Southern California desert and Taylor's second home in Joshua Tree. Olsen's Taylor is the quintessential Coachella chick, all gauzy tops and slouchy hats, "slumming" it at Pappy and Harriet's for the photo ops. Her image is a tightly controlled vision of easiness, and in reality is just as fake and manufactured as Ingrid's.
The film also features some great performances from the men in the women's lives, including Wyatt Russell as Ezra, Taylor's top-knotted husband, an aspiring artist who paints catchphrases over thrift store paintings (Ingrid is his first and only customer); O'Shea Jackson Jr, who steals almost every scene he's in as Ingrid's pot-selling, Batman-obsessed, aspiring screenwriter landlord and love interest; and Billy Magnussen as Taylor's coked-out, Hollywood leech brother Nicky, who quickly sees through Ingrid.
Director Matt Spicer and his co-screenwriter David Branson Smith aren't really telling a new story here; movies about obsession are as old as the medium itself. What is new is the platform that fuels Ingrid's obsession. It's not by accident that Ingrid is thrust at us with no real back story and no explanation for her behavior. Ingrid may be a blank slate, but aren't we all the minute we click that "Create a New Account" button on a social media app?
Ingrid Goes West opens tonight in San Francisco at the Alamo and Metreon theaters.Ingrid Goes West