Movie review: ‘Ingrid Goes West’ goes straight for the jugular
Loneliness and desperation are what underscore the biting satire on display in “Ingrid Goes West,” the eye-opening feature debut by Matt Spicer, the director of the hilarious murdering-mom short, “It’s Not You, It’s Me.” Like that little nugget, available for free on YouTube, “Ingrid” has no use for political correctness or niceties. It goes straight for the jugular with its lacerations of social media and what the 33-year-old sees as his generation’s dive into unmitigated narcissism.
His conduit is the equally talented Aubrey Plaza, the dark-eyed beauty with the gift for creating off-the-wall characters as scary as they are charming. That describes Instagram-obsessed stalker Ingrid Thornburn to a T, as we watch her leave an East Coast mental institution and pack her bags in search of a new start in Venice Beach. Abetted by the $60,000 her recently deceased mother left her, Ingrid sets up shop in an oceanside flat and commences to stalking an equally delusional Internet blogger going by the name of Taylor Sloane (a perfectly haughty Elizabeth Olsen).
Like Jennifer Jason Leigh in “Single White Female,” Ingrid is so dissatisfied with her own life she starts to live the life of another. In this case it’s Taylor, who like a lot of millennials records her every move on Instagram, making it easy for Ingrid to visit the same shops, restaurants and galas; and wear her hair and clothes exactly like Taylor. And because Taylor is so detailed in her depictions of her glamorous life, Ingrid has no problem finding where her idol lives and how to instantly win her favor when they finally meet.
If you think you know where the story is headed next, think again. While Spicer stays true to the tropes of the stalker genre, he also layers it with rich veins of satire about people who are self-obsessed but hardly self-aware. He and his co-writer, David Branson Smith, also gleefully rip apart the phony facade Taylor erects to conceal her own self-hatred and doubt. It’s no coincidence that they’ve cleverly worked in a plug for Joan Didion’s “The White Album” by having Taylor cite perhaps the book’s most famous line, “We tell ourselves stories in order to live,” a piffy quote that sums up the entire movie.
Some might see Spicer’s view as easy and cynical, given that everyone in the story is a big, fat fraud, including Taylor’s talentless-artist husband, Ezra (a terrific Wyatt Russell), and her obnoxiously pretentious brother, Nicky (a wonderfully malicious Billy Magnussen), who also proves himself to be demonstratively cruel once he’s on to Ingrid’s game. But this is what Spicer sees when he holds his mirror — or is it his selfie camera — up against America’s love for the inane and superficial, particularly in Southern California, where the Kardashians are what passes for authentic.
His one note of optimism rests in the hands of Ingrid’s quasi-landlord, Dan Pinto, the only character with a semblance of a heart. He’s played by Ice Cube’s charismatic, look-alike son, O’Shea Jackson Jr., who ups the ante on his work in “Straight Outta Compton” with a performance that pulsates with compassion. But even Dan is a victim of Didion’s idiom, enmeshing himself in the world of his hero, Batman. Is anyone real anymore?
That’s the burning question Spicer leaves us to ponder. But you might wish he’d asked it with a tad more humor in what’s labeled as a “comedy.” It’s not really funny; more like disturbing. But you’ll surely get a kick out of watching Plaza do her best Lucille Ball when she flashes her claws and dons a Catwoman mask to seduce Dan. It’s simply one of the best scenes in any movie this year.
But then, that’s Plaza. She can do no wrong, always lifting even a middling movie — like her boyfriend Jeff Baena’s “The Little Hours” — up a dozen notches with her natural abilities to flesh out the absurdity in everyday life. Her Ingrid isn’t always likable, but in Plaza’s hands she’s always someone you feel for deeply, as she failingly tries to make sense of a world where her search for love and acceptance are always wrenchingly denied.
“Ingrid Goes West”
Cast includes Aubrey Plaza, Elizabeth Olsen, Wyatt Russell, O’Shea Jackson Jr. and Billy Magnussen.
(R for language throughout, drug use, some sexual content and disturbing behavior.)