You probably follow a Taylor Sloane-type online. Or, perhaps, you’ve seen her smiling at you from the pages of a cool magazine, rattling off her favorite places to get avocado toast or shop for crystals. She’s the kind of girl who matches her manicure to the book she’s reading (maybe Stephanie Danler’s Sweetbitter or a vintage copy of The Year of Magical Thinking) for the perfect photo, drinks her coffee out of a $60 handmade Helen Levi mug, and fills the white-walled LA bungalow she shares with her scruffy artist husband with flowing pothos plants and creams you can only buy in French pharmacies. And we know all this because Taylor shares it excessively, photo by photo, to her hundreds of thousands of Instagram followers.
But Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen) is not our protagonist in Matt Spicer’s new comedy Ingrid Goes West. Instead, it’s the unhinged Ingrid Thorburn (Aubrey Plaza, and when we first meet her she is a mascara-smeared wreck, manically fav-ing the Instagram posts of a wedding before running into said wedding and pepper-spraying the bride in the face. The mousey, awkward Ingrid heads to rehab, where she assures us that she’s kicked her stalker tendencies. That is until she spies Taylor in the pages of a magazine, quickly cashes out the $60,000 life insurance policy her mother left her when she died, and heads West to fulfill her dreams of befriending (or perhaps becoming) Taylor Sloane.
When Ingrid finally worms her way into Taylor’s life (with methods that include mirror copying her look and stealing her dog), a friendship blossoms. Plaza plays Ingrid with an unsurprising monotone and a constant, almost lovable restlessness, always readjusting herself physically in scenes as if she were a mannequin attempting to appear human. “I BROUGHT ROSÉ!” she screams, at one point, while trying to grab Taylor’s attention at a party, raising the bottle abruptly like she might as well be raising an axe. And she’s only more cartoonish in scenes opposite Olson as the effusively cool Taylor, whose beautiful life appears as romantic to the viewer as it is to Ingrid.
Still, cracks emerge. Taylor’s artist husband might be an alcoholic. Money comes from spon-con but might be lacking. In one scene, while on their way to Joshua Tree, Taylor advises an incredulous gas station employee on how to expertly photograph the besties. “If you could go lower that way you could get the sign in the back and it’d be really cute,” she whines embarrassingly until he’s on the ground, squinting up at the sun, trying to deliver the best shot. Eventually it becomes clear that just like Ingrid has a way of flittering from Girl Crush to Girl Crush like a bee to honey, so does Taylor. And when the villain of the film, Taylor’s dickish brother Nicky, threatens to expose Ingrid’s obsession, she’ll do just about anything to keep him quiet—even if it means violence.
At first glance, Ingrid Goes West has the potential to be preachy comedy about narcissistic female behavior and the destructive potential of the Internet, especially since it’s written and directed by men. Both Ingrid and Taylor are intensely shallow people; Ingrid uses the hashtag-perfect lives of the women she follows as a blueprint for her own, Taylor can’t seem to imagine an existence in which everything she does isn’t a part of her lifestyle brand. But I found that Spicer and co-writer David Branson Smith’s take on influencer culture and fame was tonally spot-on, devoid of the kind of hyperbolic, snarky demonization that permeates movies and TV shows about the Internet (like Black Mirror, for example). “I like to let my work speak for itself,” says Wyatt Russell as Taylor’s husband Ezra at one point, who is described as being “technophobic” and uses a flip phone. Here we go, I thought, here’s the spiel about how the Internet is destroying everyone. Instead we get a jump cut to Ezra’s paintings: thrifted landscapes emblazoned with bright red hashtags like #SQUADGOALS and #SELFIE.
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With this kind of Internet-bred micro-celebrity still surprisingly untouched in film and television, Ingrid Goes West feels like a movie we needed. And it succeeds because even as the film veers into Todd Solondz-levels of pitch-black darkness, I found myself rooting for the twisted Ingrid. She manages to be a disturbed individual but also eerily accessible in certain scenes. Ingrid exists as a human compilation of every time you’ve bought a vlogger-recommended beauty product, or spent too long taking an aesthetically perfect photo, or waffled between typing “hehehe” or “hahaha” or “ha ha ha” on a post. And even though she’s a terrifying, fave-happy nightmare, I wouldn’t be surprised if, in Ingrid, viewers see a tiny glimmer of themselves.
Ingrid Goes West opens Friday, August 11.