At first glance, it’s easy to compare Ingrid Goes West to movies like Single White Female, where an increasingly creepy antagonist grows slowly obsessed with an innocent main character. However, Ingrid Goes West manages to subvert its own genre by casting both its archetypes in equally sympathetic and repulsive lights. While doing so, it casts a sobering light on today’s social media-obsessed culture, prompting viewers to reflect on their own online habits, as well as how we look at influencers to shape our own identities, both on and offline.
The movie opens with a series of wedding photos posted on Instagram, with the bride (Meredith Hagner) narrating the captions, hashtags, and emojis with blissful exuberance. As the camera pulls back, we see Ingrid (Aubrey Plaza), eyes swollen with tears, and scrolling through post after post, double-tapping each photo to prompt a ‘like’ response. Then, as she exits her car, clad in a hoodie, she storms through the couple’s idyllic outdoor reception before confronting the bride, congratulating her on her wedding before macing her.
From there, we see Ingrid’s recovery and eventual release from a mental health facility, where she’s later spotted by an assumed friend of the aforementioned bride. This gives some context to the events: the bride had commented on one of Ingrid’s Instagram posts, which prompted her to become obsessed with the bride, eventually leaving her scorned when she wasn’t invited to the wedding.
Ostracized and alone, Ingrid stumbles upon a magazine profile of Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen), a glamorous L.A. elite who, as you’ve probably guessed, becomes Ingrid’s newest fixation. After cashing in a $60,000 inheritance from her late mother, Ingrid packs her bags and heads out to L.A. to start her life anew. And by that, I mean she starts frequenting Taylor’s favorite hair salons and breakfast spots, frantically working to change her persona into Taylor-light.
After an awkward face-to-face meet up with Taylor in a bookstore, Ingrid works up the courage to kidnap her dog, allowing her an easy in for a conversation — partly prompted by the fact that Ingrid just ‘happens’ to have the same designer handbag as Taylor. Ingrid’s not-at-all accidental similarities to her newest social media obsession then prompt the two to form a friendship. At least as much of a friendship an openly shallow, Instagram-famous influencer is able to provide.
While Ingrid does her best to hide her desperate need for attention from her idealized vision of Taylor, the cracks in her facade slowly start to reveal themselves. She grows increasingly desperate to keep herself as Taylor’s BFF as her dark side continues to creep in, thanks in part to Taylor’s perpetually sleeveless brother, Nicky (a note-perfect Billy Magnussen).
Normally, someone like Taylor would be the movie’s central character, another hapless victim of Ingrid’s dangerous obsession, but by making the story about Ingrid, it’s impossible not to dwell on the kind of sway that those we digitally admire have on our lives. Unless you’re the type that has several hundred thousand followers and gets paid by brands to wear their clothes in your photos, Taylor (whose screen name is literally ‘_welltaylored_’) is a character who’s all but impossible to relate to — outside of the fact that we all follow at least one person like somewhere this on social media.
Ingrid, on the other hand, despite (or because of) her desperate impulse to be liked, accepted, tagged, and hashtagged, becomes an amplified version of the rest of us. As an isolated nobody who constantly searches for connections through her iPhone, she willfully ignores those in her real life looking to reach out. As Ingrid compulsively forces herself into the life of a digital stranger, she rolls her eyes when her neighbor/landlord, Dan (O’Shea Jackson, Jr.), repeatedly goes out of his way for her.
By making Ingrid the movie’s focal point, the movie elevates itself from dark comedy to scathing social media satire, all while allowing the audience to identify with a severely damaged character that we manage to see some part of ourselves in.
Ingrid Goes West is now playing in theaters everywhere.