With a subject matter as amenable to parody as Instagram, Ingrid Goes West is unsurprisingly funny. Mixing that with the inherently disconcerting conceit of cross-country stalking, the film is likewise not shy on cringes and shudders. But where the black comedy from director Matt Spicer is most impressive is in its emotional resonance. Not satisfied to simply tell a twisted story about an unstable young woman’s no-holds-barred plight to win the friendship of a social media star, Ingrid goes the extra mile to dig into the kind of psychology behind what may, for some, be startlingly familiar urges and actions. No, I don’t expect that many of our readers have uprooted their lives to travel cross-country and kidnap a dog in hopes of befriending a perfect stranger, but it’s a testament to Ingrid’s empathy that these and other behaviors feel rooted in something most of us know far too well.
Ingrid isn’t exactly a complete 180 from Aubrey Plaza’s usual dead-eyed shtick, but she’s hardly the same old ballgame either. Plaza stays within her usual laryngeal margins as the morbidly lonely Ingrid, but carries a great deal more pain and anxiety than we usually see from the actress, even when delivering the wickedly funny material afforded by the script. Elizabeth Olsen plays Taylor Sloane, Ingrid's objective in amity and personal foil, a decidedly “together” Internet-famous photographer who emanates all things L.A. high life. With nowhere else to invest her affections, Ingrid makes a mountain of a single social media interaction with Olsen’s perfectly named character, instantly expensing every economic and emotional resource to worm her way into Taylor’s life.
Thus ensues the “When will she find out the truth?” tradition so familiar to romantic comedies, but with the visceral bonus of Ingrid’s inner torment; the film’s unwillingness to stray from the darkness haunting its titular character at every turn is what makes the trope all the more rewarding this time around. Meanwhile, gags about Taylor and her husband Ezra’s (Wyatt Russell) hipster lifestyle, and Ingrid’s new landlord Dan’s (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) obsession with Batman, keep the ride jovial and lively. Oh, just building on that: There are a lot of Batman jokes. You will be astounded by the amount of Batman jokes.
Driven to milk as much as it can out of the inevitable revelation, Ingrid loses a bit too much of its essence when it succumbs to a raising of the stakes, couriered by Taylor’s drug addict brother Nicky (Billy Magnussen). It’s here that the thriller value intrinsic to the movie’s Single White Female reinvention becomes a little too animated and its comedy becomes a little too hokey; as a result, the otherwise ever-present empathy thins out, robbing the film of what made it so interesting up to this point. Though the escalating events do indeed scale up to an emotional punch, the third act’s reversal in priority does some unfortunate irreparable damage to the earnest sensibilities Ingrid had previously been communicating so effectively.
Even though it may disappoint on its original promise, Ingrid packs an impressive helping of emotional resonance, not to mention no shortage of delightfully sinister humor about social media, youth culture, and loneliness. Oh, and Batman. I really cannot stress enough how many jokes about Batman there are in this movie.
3.5 out of 5 burritos.
Images: Sundance Institute
Michael Arbeiter is the East Coast Editor of Nerdist. Find him (but please don't stalk him) on Twitter @MichaelArbeiter.