Recently an article titled, “My Instagram’s Perfect, My Real Life is Not,” described the author’s myriad of professional and personal problems. It’s a laundry list of millennial angst framed by a line that appears midway through the story. Everything is real life was going wrong, but, she says, “you wouldn’t know any of this if you were to look at my social media presence.”
It’s not an uncommon story. In 200 years from now aliens, who will only understand the world through dead Instagram accounts, will believe that everyone lived perfect, #blessed lives filled with the wonders of avocado toast and gorgeous sunsets. Carefully curated Instagram pages, and a woman who loves them, are at the heart of “Ingrid Goes West,” a new film starring Aubrey Plaza and Elizabeth Olsen.
Plaza plays Ingrid, a lonely New Yorker who befriends people on Instagram only to get upset when they don’t let her into their lives. “Lame and basic,” Ingrid goes so far as to show up, uninvited, to a “friend’s” wedding with a can of mace. Insta-blocked after that event, she fixates on Taylor Sloane (Olsen), a Californian social media star with a seemingly perfect life. With inherited money from her late mothers and state Ingrid, as the title tells us, goes west in search of the perfect life she sees on her phone everyday.
A fat bank account and plenty of nerve—Ingrid kidnaps Taylor’s dog so she can return him and insinuate herself into her life—she becomes friends with the InstaStar and her artist husband (Russell Wyatt). At first everything is hunky dory.
“You’re so funny. You’re so awesome. You’re the greatest person I have ever met,” gushes Taylor after knowing Ingrid for only a day. Soon, though, Ingrid is exposed for what she the possessive sociopath—a single white female for the Internet age—who gets jealous when Taylor hangs out or worse, is photographed with other people, and even her own brother.
“Ingrid Goes West” has the makings of either a comedy or psychological thriller but mostly plays like a cautionary tale. A portrait of a woman who buys into the InstaMyth of an effortlessly curated life, it’s a withering comment on the real stories behind social media’s hashtagged pictures. “Likes” do not equal love.
At the heart of this is Plaza, an actor unafraid to plumb the depths of desperation in her characters. Unlikeable in almost every way, Ingrid is as deep as a lunch tray and yet, because Plaza plays her as a human and not simply a caricature, she remains compelling.
Olsen, whose famous twin sisters were proto Instagram stars, embodies the kind of superficial social media maven who thinks nothing of asking—with a perfect vocal fry—a stranger to lay on the ground to take the perfect “candid” shot of her fabulous life. She’s the neo-American Dream, a perfectly fluffy confection with a dark heart and a permanent spot on the guest list for every hot club in town.
On the sidelines, but still memorable is O’Shea Jackson as Ingrid’s Batman-obsessed landlord Dan. He isn’t given much to do—he spends more time reading comics than cruising Instagram—but is a likeable and charming presence.
“Ingrid Goes West” essays the phony baloney world of social media but does so with grace and depth, exposing the disconnect many people feel in a digital world.