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MOVIES: Ingrid Goes West - Review [Sundance 2017]

21 Jan 2017

When we first meet Ingrid (Aubrey Plaza), she's sitting in her car scrolling through an Instagram feed of someone's wedding, sobbing uncontrollably as she "likes" every photo. Then she storms across the parking lot and right into the event itself, marching up to the bride to blast her in the face with pepper spray for not including her on the invitation list - an act which justifiably lands her in a mental hospital.

Turns out, the bride wasn't a friend, but merely a social media celebrity that Ingrid had developed an obsession with. When she's finally released from psychiatric care several years later, her mother has passed away and left her with a $60,000 inheritance, which Ingrid immediately spends on a trip to Los Angeles in hopes of locating the object of her latest fixation, Instagram star Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen). She visits Taylor's favorite breakfast spot and orders the same meal, then stops to get her hair cut and colored at the same salon Taylor frequents, conjuring a new version of herself that she hopes Taylor will accept as her equal.

I won't spoil the lengths to which Ingrid goes to arrange an introduction, but it's simultaneously hilarious and horrifying, not to mention effective. Just like that, Ingrid has become Taylor's new best friend, posing for photos in her feed and developing a social media presence of her own. But as the girls spend more time together, the cracks begin to show in the facade that Taylor has painstakingly crafted for herself, and the "perfect life" she project to her followers turns out to be anything but. Too bad that revelation is lost on Ingrid, whose own fictional identity lies on the verge of exposure once Taylor's hard-partying brother (Billy Magnussen) shows up for an impromptu visit.

Plaza is delightfully disturbed in the title role, especially as Ingrid begin to unravel in the films third act, but she never allows her character's psychosis to overshadow the humanity beneath. At her core, Ingrid is just a lonely girl desperate to make friends and feel accepted, but she clearly has no clue how to make that happen. Olsen also turns in strong work as the small-town girl who masks her insecurity and unhappiness by creating a personality designed to attract an audience, and Wyatt Russell shines as her husband, a struggling artist type whose patience for Taylor's fabricated lifestyle has long since worn thin.

But it's O'Shea Jackson Jr, in his first role since 2015's Straight Outta Compton, who emerges as the film's brightest star, showcasing brilliant comedic timing as Ingrid's landlord. A wannabe screenwriter with a particular affinity for Batman (specifically, Schumacher's version), Jackson's character is the only genuine person in the entire film, and his interactions with Ingrid provide some of the film's biggest laughs.

Working from a screenplay he co-wrote, director Matt Spicer's darkly humorous spin on the Single White Female dynamic functions as a blistering satire of the social media generation, where photos and Tweets can give us a false sense of familiarity with a person we've never actually met. Ingrid Goes West lays bare many of the complex issues that can arise from being a bit too connected to each other, exploring these themes with a great mix of humor and heart that will surely resonate with younger crowds.