We’ve seen this story before. A young woman, psychologically disturbed, becomes obsessed with a popular, pretty young woman who embodies everything she wants to be. Over time, the preoccupation morphs into stalker behavior, with the unstable woman mimicking the other’s hairstyle, wardrobe, and more. In this case, Ingrid (played by Aubrey Plaza, of Parks and Recreation fame) plays the crazed young woman, while Elizabeth Olsen is Taylor Sloane, the perfect girl with the perfect life who becomes the target of Ingrid’s obsessive behavior.
While the story is familiar, Ingrid Goes West is more innovative than it may sound. For one, unlike many similar tales, we get at least a glimpse into the reasons for Ingrid’s behavior. Yes, she has serious mental health issues. She’s mourning the death of her mother, which triggers grief and depression, making her more desperate for connection. And we see that Taylor is not the first target of her stalker-ish behavior. An earlier incident at a “friend’s” wedding leads to a stint at a psychological facility.
What this film is really about is the artifice of Insta-fame and the lack of authentic connection via social media. Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and other social media allow us to carefully cultivate a public image. But when you scratch the surface of anyone’s apparently “perfect” on-line life, the reality is never what it seems. It’s easy to take dozens of selfies to get one shot that is flattering, and then there are plenty of editing techniques to remove blemishes and imperfections. Ingrid Goes West, at its heart, is a cautionary tale. It’s a reminder that nothing is what it appears on-line, and that everyone is imperfect, with their own set of problems and fears. Some are just able to hide their insecurities from the world.
Aubrey Plaza is thoroughly mesmerizing as Ingrid. Plaza is able to make Ingrid both cringe-inducing and completely sympathetic at the same time. Olsen seems tailor made for the role of Instagram celebrity Sloane, embodying the paper-thin persona of a social media-made icon. O’Shea Jackson Jr (Ice Cube’s son) is the character you’ll empathize with most, playing Dan Pinto, Ingrid’s Batman-obsessed love-interest, of sorts. And Wyatt Russell has a solid turn as Taylor Sloane’s artist husband, Ezra.
The story is truly engrossing, despite its familiar notes. The impressive acting and well-paced editing keep the film moving forward. Young Matt Spicer makes his feature-length debut in the director’s chair, and proves he is up to the task. He and David Branson Smith co-wrote the script and were recognized at Sundance Film Festival with the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award.
Ingrid Goes West is currently in limited release.