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Film review: Ingrid Goes West

15 November 2017 Katie Da Cunha Lewin

There are numerous benefits to social media: increased connectivity and more space for individuals to explore their interests, but there are undoubtedly more anxiety-provoking aspect to it. Recent studies have pointed out that increased time on social media is actively detrimental to mental health, especially in young women.

The opening scene of Ingrid Goes West is a familiar one to anyone who uses social media: a photograph of a happy looking woman, surrounded by hashtags, emojis and comments, the interface of instagram.  The on-screen scrolls become more and more manic, as we realise that the images on screen are documenting an event happening at that moment, the wedding of a young woman.  The sudden cut to a shot of Ingrid (Aubrey Plaza), contrasts vividly to the happiness we see on screen, her eyes shining with tears as she rapidly moves through the timeline of someone we presume to be her friend.   For anyone who has ever been left out of something, a friends wedding, a gathering, even just a simple dinner, Ingrid’s feelings seem understandable: rejection and loneliness are never easy.  However, when Ingrid marches up to the blond bride, and pepper sprays her, the relationship between them immediately becomes a lot more sinister.

This move between extreme moments is characteristic of this film, in which we are both made to feel sorry for, and angry with, Plaza’s manic Ingrid.  We learn that Ingrid’s mother has recently died, leaving her alone in a house full of her mother’s things, including the hospital bed and medications that saw her through her final weeks.  Ingrid, now alone, uses the internet as a way to feel connected, spending hours and hours on her phone everyday. She comes across Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen), whose meticulously curated life and aesthetic immediately appeals to Ingrid. Richer than she has ever been, she decides to, as the title says, go west, in order to meet the women she has decided will be her new best friend.

In Ingrid’s search for friendship, she uses instagram as a tool to replicate what is popular, going to restaurants, wearing clothes and decorating her house in ways admired on the app. Throughout, there are glimpses of her real self, glimpses recognised by her landlord, Batman-obsessed Dan, but these are few and far between.  As she meets Taylor and gets to know her, the audience soon realises that Taylor’s curated life does not necessarily match reality. Though at moments we think the two have forged some kind of connection, this is quickly shown to be based on shared things that neither of them are really invested in.

Ingrid is clearly a damaged individual, but the film is not only about the effects on the more vulnerable, but a more general comment on how it is that social media operates and its effect on social life. There are several hilarious moments throughout, where people are immediately intimate with each other, sharing personal secrets and traumas as part of natural conversation.  Moreover, the film also exposes the willingness of individuals to give out their personal information: what seems on the surface to be a way of ‘sharing’ your life, easily becomes a way of essentially making a personal map of where you go and what you do. Taylor learns the hard way that perhaps marking your every move in unwise.

In the last few years, Aubrey Plaza has become increasingly well known in both mainstream and independent cinema, for her comedic performances and her uncanny ability to keep a straight face. In this film, Plaza’s performance is very good; her Ingrid is a young woman teetering on the edge, desperately trying to take part in a world that shuts her out.  There are also some excellent performances from the supporting cast, particularly O’Shea Jackson Jnr in his role as the charming landlord and love interest and Elizabeth Olsen as the shallow Taylor.

Whilst there is lots to be enjoyed in this film and moments where it truly feels like an effective satire, the tone is sometimes a little uneven, and it loses its way a little in the third act. Though the film appears to be satirising the shallow nature of social media, as well as pointing out the dangers that lurk underneath the veneer of perma smiles and tans, the dénouement of the film seems to undercut this: by allowing Ingrid to go viral, the film finishes on an ambiguous note, so that one leaves unsure whether or not Ingrid will simply perpetuate her damaging interactions with social media, or be released from her addiction.  Perhaps this ambiguity echoes everyone’s underlying ambivalence towards media culture; however, after the humour of the earlier sections of the film, the last few scenes felt a little unexpected.  This is still definitely a film to see, just don’t expect to feel okay when you tweet about it afterwards.   
 
Ingrid Goes West is in select cinemas.
 
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