- Ingrid Goes West (2017)
Tackling the millennial generation’s obsessions with projecting perfect lives on social media, Ingrid Goes West laughs at the extremes but makes you relate – even if it doesn’t fully escape the cliche.
The millennial generation’s relationship with social media has inevitably found its way into film. Filmmakers have turned it into a horror (Friend Request), an analysis of generational gaps and distance between people that stems from them (Men, Women and Children) and the stories of lost individuality and peer pressure (Nerve). There’s a lot of material to explore, and a multitude of standpoints to take: this form of communication has become a part of our daily lives, and these films are the sign of their times. However, all of these took a very particular stance that somewhat demonised social media. There’s always a certain apocalyptic vision attached to them, placing the youngest generations as those so preoccupied with their Twitters, Tinders and Snapchats that they don’t really notice the world beyond the Internet. Ingrid Goes West, however, tries to understand the damage that social media brings by showing us that all of us are a little guilty of the fabrications we upload for the public to enjoy. It plays with a whole lot of irony too, even if it doesn’t get rid of its preachiness by the end.
Ingrid’s life revolves around Instagram. When she figures out that one of her friends didn’t invite her to her wedding, she doesn’t take to spamming her feed with happy pictures kindly and decides to let her know offline that she’d appreciate the gesture. Storming into the reception, she shoots her face with pepper spray and ends up in a mental hospital. Soon, we learn that her victim wasn’t really her friend: Ingrid followed her online after the girl spoke to her once. When her treatment is finished, she finds a new obsession, a lifestyle blogger Taylor living in California. With a backpack full of inherited money, she heads to the west coast desperate to meet her idol. But is her Instagram profile the true reflection of her real-life persona? Ingrid soon needs to learn how to navigate the landscape of glitz and glamour, and learn that not everything is as easy as faking a pixel-perfect lifestyle.
It’s easy to find yourself laughing at Ingrid’s erratic actions; nothing she does makes much sense to a person that can healthily detach from the online world. Her outbursts of jealousy and anger are difficult to understand; she seems to be preoccupied with herself, manipulative, and desperate for attention. However, when we find out why it’s easy for her to make that move to California – she has no friends and family that could pay attention to her wellbeing – the pity starts to surround the picture of the girl that’s so easy to judge in the first place. Aubrey Plaza goes through the whole spectrum of emotion to make us understand her character, shrugging at the haters and allowing herself to be vulnerable when there’s no one around to see through her carefully crafted image.
Taking a stab at understanding the cult of personality that the Internet reframed for us, the film casts an eye over the other side of staying connected and being able to befriend people you identify with. Ingrid’s pursuit of perfection has many dark undertones; the glowing screen separates her from understanding others’ feelings and empathising. But many of Ingrid’s actions stem from loneliness, and this is where the movie is at its most powerful. Her relationships are defined by photos, hashtags and emojis: the life in the virtual world seems much easier, and it’s tempting for her to pay a high price to replicate it for herself. Aspiring to be like her idols, and seeing only the polished side of their personal brand, she turns into a person that scares us: she snaps pictures of every single thing in Taylor’s house, aspires to eat in the same places and appear at the same events. She’s a sociopathic stalker, but she doesn’t seem to believe it can bring any harm when the other person’s life is available at a swipe of a finger. Thinking that her own personality won’t make the cut, she steers away from her own opinions. She feels that the only way of fitting in is to imitate what’s marketed to her as perfect, and when her formula starts to work, she finally feels validated.
The weight of blame soon shifts when we grasp that the life on the other side of the Instagram profile isn’t picture-perfect either. Taylor spews lines about inspirations and blessings that come her way, but her profile doesn’t show that she tends to steal ideas and fabricate details for her perfect life scenario. Manufacturing her life goes so far that she makes people around her unhappy without noticing, she knows how to use others to appear where she wants to be, and her influencer persona overshadows the needs and feelings of those that are close to her. Deep down, she’s also insecure: feeding on compliments, she opens herself to anyone who wants to listen, blurring the lines between healthy interactions and oversharing. Ashley Olsen feels believable as an online personality whose appeal is only skin-deep, channelling the it girl persona with a lot of mellow charm. When we piece together the puzzle, she takes us by hand into the shallowness of the pretty Instagram grids. It does leave you with something to think of, too: of two fraudsters, does any of them deserve the redemption more?
The biggest letdown of Ingrid Goes West is its ending. The careful characterisation makes us invested in the characters, setting the bar pretty high for the finale. However, Matt Spicer takes an easy way out and makes it expectable, even if it’s rather empathetic for everyone involved. The cliched ending is difficult to swallow and doesn’t really leave us satisfied. Tackling this relatively new area of our lives, it’s pretty easy to get preachy, and the director doesn’t manage to get rid of the shackles of the predictability completely. At the end of the day, we know that the life isn’t like the movies, and the film seems to fail to protect itself from its own weapon.
Ingrid Goes West takes a stab at a broad phenomenon that crept into our lives and transformed them in many ways, and thanks to its ironic, satirical attitude, it does leave you with food for thought. You can laugh, but you know that deep down, you can relate to curating this online reality – everyone’s done it at some point in their lives, even if for an Instagram story moment. But as far as a cautionary tale can go, it’d be good if the film could let go of the Hollywood ending in favour of addressing the nuances that it spent so much time crafting.
Ingrid Goes West was screened as a part of the 61st London Film Festival. It opens in the UK on the 17th of November 2017.