Monday, January 22, 2018

"Ingrid" Goes Deep

There have been a spate of recent films that have tried to tackle the dark side of life online, from domestic dramas lamenting the loss of real interpersonal connections, to horror films full of supercharged stalkers and online bullies gone viral.  And while these portrayals have been well-meaning, and usually got the broad outlines of the bad behavior right, there was also a sort of overblown alarmist feel to many of them.  

And now along comes Ingrid, played by Aubrey Plaza, who is an absolutely perfect, terrifying example of someone who the internet is turning into a monster.  Ingrid is an internet stalker, who we first see disrupting a former friend's wedding, a friend we learn that Ingrid has been hounding on social media.  Blocked from seeing any of her victim's accounts, Ingrid decides to move onto a new target, a trendsetter named Taylor (Elizabeth Olsen), who lives in Venice, California with her husband Ezra (Wyatt Russell).  Using her inheritance from her recently deceased mother, Ingrid moves to Venice, and sets out to become Taylor's new best friend.

I related so much to Ingrid, it was unsettling.  I distinctly remember being that lonely, socially-awkward twenty-something, who did not have her life together in the slightest, and was envious of friends who seemed to know what they were doing.  Ten years ago, however, social media wasn't what it is today, and people were still wary of sharing so much of their lives online.  If I were that same twenty-something now, would I be obsessively checking other people's beautifully curated Instagram and Facebook feeds the way Ingrid does, trying to live vicariously through them?  Taylor's LA aesthetic is not my thing, but I admit being drawn toward an artsier crowd I only knew via online blogs.  Would I have been a potential Ingrid, just a few clicks away from going after someone with a can of mace?

As black comedies go, "Ingrid Goes West" is on the gentler side, which I found made it more memorable and effective.  Ingrid is a terrible person, but thanks to Aubrey Plaza, she's also a lot of fun to watch.  And even when she's at her worst, taking advantage of new friend Dan Pinto (O'Shea Jackson Jr.), or luring Taylor's dog away so she can play hero, it's easy to sympathize with her.  Humanizing Ingrid, and to a lesser extent Taylor and Ezra, keeps the audience on its toes.  We can't simply write off Ingrid as a nutter for her behavior, because we're shown that it's stemming from deeper problems, and she has the capacity to be someone better.  And when it becomes clear that Taylor isn't everything she's made herself out to be, it still doesn't excuse Ingrid's treatment of her or mean that Taylor doesn't get to be angry.

As a small indie production with a limited budget, and made by a first time filmmaker, "Ingrid Goes West" has the usual technical limitations you would expect.  However, I like the way that director Matt Spicer frames Aubrey Plaza, keeping us firmly in Ingrid's headspace through all the different phases of her relationship with Taylor.  This is one of the best performances I've seen Plaza give, selling Ingrid's every emotional high and low as she swerves from trainwreck to picture-perfect bestie to jealous girlfriend.  The film's biggest strength is the script, specifically how it finds all these little moments to fill in the details about Taylor and Ezra's relationship, or what happened to Ingrid's mother.  Dan is probably the least likely character - way too forgiving and nice to be true - but O'Shea Jackson is such a charmer, I was just happy every time he was onscreen.

And I appreciate the way that "Ingrid" handles Internet addiction, showing it from different angles, and pointing out that it's really an extension of other issues that the characters already have.  Ingrid without social media would still be obsessive and miserable.  Her ready access to more information is just exacerbating and enabling an existing problem.  The internet stalker is becoming such a common trope in media, it's nice to get a more nuanced portrait of one.  And Aubrey Plaza was seriously overdue for a starring role like this one.  

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