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Ingrid Goes West (2017)- BFI London Film Festival 2017

Review

98min

Genre:       Comedy, Drama

Director:    Matt Spicer

Cast:         Aubrey Plaza, Elizabeth Olsen, O’Shea Jackson Jr.…and more

Writers:     David Branson Smith and Matt Spicer

-Synopsis-

A troubled young lady follows her social media obsession West to L.A. where she strategically inserts herself into the life of her lifestyle ‘guru’ idol and unsuspecting Instagram star, creating her own aspirational persona and unscrupulously connecting with new people, with hilarious and tragic consequences in this socially reflective comedy/drama from directorial debutant Matt Spicer.

For his feature debut, young writer/director Spicer recruits a couple of Hollywood’s hottest and edgiest young stars, taking aim at his own generation to craft a quintessentially American social satire and darkly comical character drama, focused on a society that has become simultaneously more narcissistic and insecure—all in the context of a culture and a people who are more connected yet lonelier than ever.

Aubrey Plaza stars as emotionally unstable young Midwesterner ‘Ingrid Thorburn’, a loner who lives vicariously through social media and heads West thanks to an inheritance, intent on pursuing her latest obsession ‘Taylor Sloane’ (Elizabeth Olsen)—a beautiful young bohemian ‘humblebrag’ queen and influential Instagram star living with her husband ‘Ezra’ (Wyatt Russell) on the California coast. As she deceptively inserts herself into her idol’s seemingly idyllic life, co-opting her new Batman-obsessed landlord and fictitious boyfriend ‘Dan’ (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) to create a sham persona—Ingrid walks a hilariously uncomfortable but tragic line between being exposed and having an epiphany about her misguided life . . . if she isn’t consumed by her obsessions first.

Whether or not its target millennial audience will even recognise or acknowledge it, ‘Ingrid Goes West’ is a scathing social satire for a self-centred and entitled, social media-obsessed generation—taking aim at a culture of aspiration consumed with the facade of achievement, but not interested in what it takes to get there, or what (if any) meaning it has in the bigger picture. Yet on the face of it this is also a tale about a deeply troubled and emotionally unbalanced individual, perhaps a victim of the culture she lives in or just someone triggered by it, but a clear reflection on the crisis of identity that seems to be sweeping across Western youth—reflecting pertinent and widespread issues of depression, disillusionment, loneliness and self-doubt in our society.

‘Ingrid Goes West’ is a deliberately awkward comedy of deception and misadventure, often edgy and occasionally crude but always perceptive, taking full advantage of Plaza’s deadpan comedy chops for playing intense dead-eyed characters to create this story of a troubled young lady looking for connection and acceptance in all the wrong places—the affections of laughably self-unaware and pompous, trendy young new-age middle-class Californians, adeptly brought to life by the performances of Olsen, Russell and co.

This is no doubt a genuinely funny film, but certainly not at the level of a consistently rip-roaring irreverent modern comedy. It’s also an occasionally poignant affair that’s tinged with sadness, but there’s not enough character development to make it particularly emotional and doesn’t even flirt with being moving. Instead Spicer keeps a nice balance between the general lightness of the tone and the darkness of the themes, making for a genuinely entertaining, perceptive and light modern take on the stalker film—a sort of comedy version of the ‘Single White Female’ paradigm, only in reverse where the stalker is the sympathetic character which the audience connects to.

Yet the film only truly leaves a mark as both satire and an uncomfortable reflection of modern society and youth culture. ‘Ingrid Goes West’ could almost be seen as a horror film along the lines of ‘Dawn of the Dead’, but of the digital urban zombie variety, a comment on an increasingly mindless society who live by their phone and replace meaningful human connection with meaningless virtual ones. It’s also something of a commentary on the southern Californian celebrity culture which has spread worldwide, a vapid cultural vortex which sucks in people from all over the world with the promise of fame and fortune, transforming a few successful souls into something unrecognisable from their true selves—while chewing up and spitting out the rest.

Whether you see this a funny and slightly disturbing portrait of a deeply troubled individual, or you recognise it as a critique of a generation having an identity crisis, ‘Ingrid Goes West’ will entertain you from the start and hold your attention throughout . . . and if you let it, might even make you think twice about your own lifestyle habits.

The Bottom Line…

An often hilarious, perceptive and sobering story of a troubled individual and a generation in the midst of an identity crisis, all within an awkwardly clueless culture. Directorial debutant Matt Spicer pulls no punches in going after celebrity obsessed, technology dependent youth, while weaving a more sombre and uncomfortably reflective personal tale—relying on the comedy talents and surprising dramatic chops of his star to make it all work . . . let’s just hope this proves more than just a ‘crazy lady story’ for its target audience.

‘Ingrid Goes West’ is out on the 17th of November in the UK, and out now in the US.

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