Ingrid Goes West may be one of the most modern and perceptive comedies you'll see this year, but it plays like a Shakespearean tragedy. Standing in for soliloquies are vapid Instagram captions, dueting with a chorus of enamoured followers. The sometimes uncomfortably real film sheds light on the mistake of pursuing the kind of perfect life we see all the time in the age of social media.
The film's titular hero, played by the brilliant Aubrey Plaza in the kind of starring role she's been waiting for, is clearly unhinged. Lonely and devastated by the death of her mother, she commits an act of violence after being left out once again. Making a supposedly fresh start with $60,000 left to her by her mother, she heads for L.A. to become like Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen), whose peachy life she has witnessed on Instagram.
While she is an over-the-top character, most members of the audience will have plenty of #MeIRL moments of self-recognition as Ingrid scrolls obsessively through Instagram. The film however performs a neat trick where we slowly come to learn that Ingrid may in fact be more genuine than just about every other character in the movie as she pursues a comfortable and idyllic life that she's been led to believe is achievable. The extremely smart screenplay co-written by first-time director Matt Spicer with David Branson Smith has the kind of needling dialogue that strikes a brilliant balance between affect and moments of extreme vulnerability.
Aubrey Plaza's performance is terrific, tapping into all the vitriolic, self-effacing humour at which she is so adept. A revelation comes in the form of O'Shea Jackson Jr. as Ingrid's Batman-obsessed landlord and love interest, who is loveable, goofy and honest. Elizabeth Olsen's performance is also brilliant, portraying with great nuance the cracks in Taylor's veneer of seemingly unflappable resolve and self-esteem.
Much of the film is spent laughing at Ingrid's expense, but it never feels mean-spirited. She makes mistakes, but they come from emotional hurt, and that same emotional hurt is eloquently echoed through most of the small cast.The film is laugh-out-loud hilarious, and often cringe-inducing, but at the same time it is haunted by the sorrow of failed dreams and the fear of being exposed as a phoney.
When you step Through the Proverbial Looking Glass of social media, things are never as beautiful as they seem, but Ingrid Goes West does have a rough-shod and, yes, beautiful tenderness even as it unearths the ugliness and self-serving nature of human behaviour. It's funny, incisive, sad, and ultimately hopeful; In other words, a must-see.
Ingrid Goes West is screening as part of the 2017 Sydney Film Festival. Catch the final festival screening this Saturday June 17th.