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For a movie about fake lives in a digital world, Ingrid Goes West is a surprisingly authentic look into the loneliness and superficiality of the iUniverse. The comedy, rated R for language, drug use, and some sexual content, received a screenwriting prize at Sundance and clicks best with younger generations who sleep clutching their iPhones.
Ingrid Thorburn (Aubrey Plaza) is one Instagram handle among millions who double-tap at tinted portraits of avocado toast and lattes on reclaimed wooden surfaces. If that sounds snarky, it’s because the entire movie skewers this sort of Insta-glamorous culture. Unfortunately, Ingrid is an unhinged addict. When a young Instagram celebrity responds to Ingrid’s comment—with a winking emoji!—Ingrid decides to become her new best friend. So she moves out West to Venice, Los Angeles, where the sun-kissed boho-chic blonde Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen) lives with her hipster-bearded husband (Wyatt Russell).
Plaza portrays her character with her trademark blank stare and tuneless voice, which adds an extra creepiness when she “rescues” Taylor’s dog and shows up just “happening” to clutch the same handbag as her idol. In true SoCal gal fashion, the two instantly profess their love for each other under the influence of alcohol and cocaine and selfie pouts. As disturbed as her character is, Plaza provokes empathy and pity for this desperately lonely woman who hates her own life and wants another’s. Taylor too feels the same way—except she can’t admit it even to herself, and the life she covets is her own as portrayed (and monetized) on social media.
The film’s ending is predictable but leaves unresolved the fate of Ingrid’s health: Will she ever find worth beyond the number of likes and comments she receives? Can she ever just enjoy brunch without having to tell the world how “#blessed” she is? Somehow, the movie seems to direct those questions at its audience as well.