Prepare yourself for a dark journey into a world of obsession, desperation and living for Instagram likes. #socialmedia #mentalhealth #relevant
Ingrid Goes West begins with a series of sickly sweet wedding shots, all filtered-up and Insta-ready. “A perfect day for a perfect wedding. Hashtag perfect”, says the voiceover as we’re presented with a stylised shot of a bride waiting for her big moment. We hear a double tap. Then the next perfect photo appears. Double tap. Then the next. Double tap. Ingrid (Aubrey Plaza) sits in her car, mascara streaming down her face as she scrolls through the Instagram images of the picture-perfect wedding and likes each and every one. The last photo is a group shot in which the bride says she’s #blessed to be surrounded by all her closest friends on her special day. Ingrid throws open the car door and storms into the wedding reception that she has been parked outside and watching the entire time. She confronts the bride and sprays mace in her eyes. “Thanks for inviting me you f**king c**t!” she screams.
Ingrid spends some time in a mental hospital before returning to her now empty Pennsylvania home. Her mother’s ashes sit on the mantle while the indications of her recent passing are everywhere; her hospital bed is set up in the front room, her pills litter the table tops and her clothes are bagged up in the bedroom. Ingrid slumps into the bath after another mass-liking session on Instagram and opens up a glossy magazine. An eye-catching feature spread reads, ‘Meet your new girl crush, Taylor Sloane’. Photographer Taylor (Elizabeth Olsen) smiles into the lens, looking effortlessly cool in her chic LA home.
Ingrid immediately seeks out the Californian socialite on Instagram and we are introduced to Taylor in a fast-moving slide show of Insta snaps, complete with a voiceover from Taylor as she reads out some of her photo captions. “You’re so cool, hashtag true romance vibes”, she says as we’re shown pictures of her new husband. A barrage of perfectly filtered, flawless lifestyle shots hit the screen. Aerial coffee pics, shots of her dog in the sunshine, cute sunset photos while Taylor makes a heart shape with her hands. We all know these photos. Because we all know a Taylor. Resolving to start a new life, Ingrid decides to follow Taylor; both on the social media platform and literally. Using Taylor’s photo updates as a means of tracking her down, Ingrid moves to the West Coast and endeavours to slowly but surely gain access to the Instagram star’s life and maybe, one day, be her friend.
Director Matt Spicer’s film is a dark look into the relatively new world of Instagram fame that will not only make you think twice about providing too much location detail on your next post but will quite possibly make you feel sick about the whole idea of posting at all. The film makes its opinion very clear: Instagram is a means of constructing and projecting the perfect life, achieving momentary happiness in the form of popularity that does nothing to fix the big problems. It’s pop psychology, but it’s bang on. Rather than ram the point down our throats, however, the film opts to challenge its audience’s opinions of social media by presenting situations that we’ve experienced. Get given a tasty meal? Post a pic. Get a reply from a celeb? Freak out with excitement. Lots of us have been there. But as Ingrid’s obsession escalates, the relatability makes way for something quite horrifying and sobering.
As is the case with most stalkers, fictional or otherwise, Ingrid’s alarming obsession with Taylor has a traumatic root. For Ingrid, it’s loneliness and a complete misjudgement of the process of making friends. It’s an interesting insight into the way that someone dealing with grief and mental health difficulties may interact with social media. For Ingrid, Taylor is sharing her life online and this gives the understandable impression of closeness and friendship. It’s a tragic misreading of a faux-social situation and one that, as the film progresses, you grow to understand from both Ingrid and Taylor’s perspectives equally.
The film also considers what it means to lie and asks, in this world of filters and hashtags and the constant need to perform one’s life, who is lying the most? Is it the damaged girl who wants to imitate everything about her Instagram idol, or is it the Instagram star who cannot go a day without documenting her life from the perfect angle? Ultimately, there are no winners in this game. For some, it’s hard feeling that you’re unworthy. For others, it’s damn hard work making it look like you’re living the dream.
Aubrey Plaza is great as a young and desperate girl with loads of love to give and little understanding of how to give it, imbuing her performance with an edge of twitchy unpredictability in every scene. Elizabeth Olsen, meanwhile, is truly fantastic as the rich and famous boho chick for whom everything is about ‘vibes’, nailing that ‘privileged arty white girl’ stereotype where everything is #aesthetic and #sunshineandroses. Her character is perhaps best summed up when her husband Ezra (Wyatt Russell) begins to unravel under the strain of her high maintenance lifestyle and shouts, “Everything’s ‘the best’ with her… it’s not the f**king best, it’s f**king exhausting!”
O’Shea Jackson is wonderful as Ingrid’s endearing landlord and Batman fan Dan Pinto. With one of the best lines in the film (“Tell me Gotham needs me!”), his character offers Ingrid the chance of a real, emotional connection with a fellow human being. Blinkered and solely focused on developing her friendship with Taylor, Ingrid is given the same affection by Dan that she shows for her phone. When things get ‘real’ for Ingrid and she is forced to confront herself #nofilter, Dan is the only person by her side, but what could have been a hopeful story of recovery with some resolution of past mistakes descends into something all the more sinister.