A social-media obsessed woman with borderline personality disorder moves to Los Angeles to insert herself into another woman’s life, severely disrupting the lives of everyone she encounters in this dark comedy by debut writer-director Matt Spicer. Ingrid Goes West (2017) has a lot to say about contemporary American society, but despite being shot and promoted as a comedy, there’s really nothing funny about it.
Its humor comes from Aubrey Plaza‘s performance as Ingrid Thorburn, the unfortunate young woman just looking for a best friend. Her portrayal is awkward, charming, and at times frightening. But even though we’re invited to laugh at her fumbled personal interactions, there are no jokes or one-liners. This lack of overt-comedy is not a deficit.
As the film opens, a distraught Ingrid maces a bride for not inviting her to the wedding and is committed to a mental hospital. Upon release, she sees Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen) in a magazine and begins following her on Instagram. Ingrid comments on a photo and Taylor replies, inviting her to check it out next time she’s in LA. Coincidentally, Ingrid’s mother dies, leaving her with a $60,000 inheritance. Ingrid uses that money to move to LA and rent a house from aspiring screenwriter and Batman fanboy Dan Pinto (O’Shea Jackson, Jr.).
Once in LA, Ingrid remakes her personality and appearance in Taylor’s image and plots to insert herself in the woman’s life, going so far as to kidnap her and her husband Ezra’s (Wyatt Russell) dog so she can return it. Ingrid and Taylor become friends, but their relationship is complicated by the appearance of Taylor’s drug-addict brother, Nicky (Billy Magnussen), and fashion blogger Harley Chung (Pom Klementieff), who begin to monopolize Taylor’s time.
Ingrid’s plans unravel when Nicky snoops through her phone and discovers her fixation with Taylor. He tries to blackmail her, and she fakes abuse to convince Dan to help abduct Nicky and scare him away. When that plan goes awry, Nicky tells Taylor everything and Taylor cuts Ingrid completely out of her life. Ingrid spirals out of control, eventually recording a suicide video and uploading it to Instagram. Dan rescues her, but while she was in the hospital, her video went viral and she received hundreds of supportive messages from people around the world, finally giving her the sense of acceptance she craved.
Plaza’s portrayal of Ingrid is genuine and convincing. When Nicky confronts her, she pleads with him, asking what’s wrong with wanting to be Taylor’s friend. Most people who suffer from mental illness don’t think there’s anything wrong with their behavior, even when it’s obvious to everyone around them. Everyone wants to be accepted and loved by others, of course, but never go to such extremes. That’s because a person with borderline personality disorder doesn’t have a developed personality. Ingrid needs another person to give her a stable sense of self.
As the film progresses, it’s shown that like Taylor’s Instagram posts, her personality is merely a superficial collection of objects. Her favorite book, for example, was her husband’s favorite, and she never read it. Popularity and acceptance, for both Ingrid and Taylor, comes from wearing the right clothes and accessories, eating at the right restaurants, paying lip service to the right social trends, and displaying those things for all to see. It suggests our national obsession with broadcasting our lives on social media is a kind of insanity.
Ingrid Goes West is refreshing in that it doesn’t glamorize mental illness like many TV shows and Hollywood movies. It’s a shame the film didn’t do better at the box office, but its dark lampooning of our superficial obsession with social-media probably hit too close to home for most audiences. Still, it has received generally favorable reviews and currently has a rating of 85 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.