At first glance, the logline for Ingrid Goes West can sound a bit twee, tacky or hyperbolic. In the wrong hands, this feels like a film that could easily have come off the wrong way. However, it’s to the credit of director Matt Splicer that it feels less like a lecture from your parents more like a cautionary tale that feels only a few steps away from the everyday.
Ingrid (Aubrey Plaza) is the kind of awkward loner and social media addict that our generation’s parents probably fear we’re all on our way to becoming. Armed with a sizeable inheritance left by her recently-deceased mother, Ingrid moves to Los Angeles to try and befriend her ‘Instagram Idol’ Taylor (Elizabeth Olsen).
From there, Ingrid Goes West is a more-or-less a story about Ingrid’s struggle to keep up appearances. Her struggle to be befriend Taylor, seem cool, have the right taste and present as a successful and happy person – in lieu of the struggle to actually achieve those goals. Though draped in the sometimes-wacky lingo, language and quirks of millennial culture, the underlying themes of Ingrid Goes West often read as timeless and relatable.
Aubrey Plaza’s performance is more-or-less the beating heart of the film, and she’s in strong form here. It’s far from her best performance (though she doesn’t always have a huge amount of dialogue to work with) but she does an excellent job of peppering it with little touches that keep Ingrid grounded. While Ingrid might often behave in a way that you wouldn’t, you always have a good understanding of why she does so.
That said, I wouldn’t have been opposed to more time with some of the film’s supporting cast. O’Shea Jackson Jr is a delight as Ingrid’s landlord Dan while Wyatt Russell brings a surprising amount of depth, anger and sadness to Taylor’s husband Ezra.
Ingrid Goes West is unlikely to approach Plaza’s previous roles when it comes to the laughs but there’s still something to be said for the film’s unique sense of humor. Over the course of the film, she sways from hilarious to cringe-worthy to awkward to pitiful – but remains entertaining to watch throughout (though if you’re not a fan of second-hand embarrassment, your enjoyment might vary).
Ultimately, it does feel like the film’s structure ultimately lets it down towards the end. At times, the script (written by Splicer and David Branson Smith) is unflinching in its savage takedown of the superficial culture around Instagram and even more unreserved about some of the contemptuously selfish things that Ingrid herself does. Unfortunately, the film fails to find a conclusion that cuts anywhere near as deep. Watching Ingrid fail to learn from her experiences and grow more and more vain can only stay compelling for so long.
Still, there’s a lot to like here – and a lot to be respected in how the film blends together timeless themes with its contemporary criticisms. Ingrid Goes West is entertaining to be sure, but rarely transcends the sum of its parts and bubbles over into brilliance.
Review Score: THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Ingrid Goes West is screening at this year’s Sydney Film Festival, with remaining screenings on the 14th and the 17th of June. For more information about the festival and screening times, click HERE.