When The Social Network came out back in 2010, more than one film critic dubbed it “a movie that defines a generation,” and it was a sentiment I despised. Yes, the plot revolved around social media. But the crux of that film had nothing to do with the millennial mindset, and the characters at its center weren’t particularly easy for the Facebook generation to relate to.
Enter Ingrid Goes West. Ingrid is yet another film that heavily involves social media, but this time, there is something distinctly generational about it; it’s impossible for those that have grown up in the Age of Instagram to not find themselves belly laughing (and wincing) at what they see before them. Make no mistake, this is an insanely dark comedy. But comedy is how we make harsh realities palatable. We may not want Ingrid Goes West to define our generation, but I would be shocked if you found a film that skewers – and understands – millennials better.
The story follows Ingrid Thorburn (Aubrey Plaza), a mentally unstable Instagram addict who moves to Los Angeles in an attempt to befriend her latest Instagram obsession, lifestyle influencer Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen). The two become quick friends, but it’s not long before both their facades begin to crack, and dark truths are revealed.
As usual, Plaza is utterly committed to the role. She plays the character as unhinged, but there’s enough softness to her that we’re able to see past the craziness and the phony imitation to the real person underneath. Ingrid is a lonely girl that has trouble connecting. She wants friends and normality, but can’t seem to crack the code to make it happen. So she goes on Instagram, and scrolling through the beautiful girls with their picturesque lives gives her something to aspire to. She wants the effortless beauty, the blissful, candid snapshots, and the overall perfectly curated life that she sees reflected in Taylor’s photos. She wants to be happy. And despite the awful actions of her character — which include dog kidnapping and full-on stalking — we’re rooting for her to be happy too.
In one of Plaza’s best scenes, Ingrid and Taylor drive back to L.A. while blasting K-Ci & JoJo’s “All My Life.” The two belt out the lyrics (“All my life, I’ve prayed for someone like you…”) in dramatic fashion, Taylor playfully pointing towards Ingrid while singing. She’s carefree and having a blast. When the camera cuts to Ingrid, there’s an intensity to her that shows that she really means the lyrics she’s singing — this is all too literal for her. In Plaza’s hands, it’s simultaneously hilarious and cringe-inducing.
Olsen’s performance, on the other hand, is surprisingly grounded in reality throughout the film. It would have been easy for her to play Taylor as an over-the-top California girl who is the butt of every joke. But here she feels like a real person, even as she uses the typical Cali vocal inflections and dons one too many maxi dresses. In true Taylor fashion, her performance is perfect: just the right blend of faux boho girl satire and humanization. Taylor has plenty of her own insecurities, and seeing her navigate them is one of the film’s quietest triumphs.
To be a generational film, you have to capture something real about your subjects. And when you wade through all the jokes at the forefront of Ingrid, you’ll find something insightful, sad, and true. Social media influencers only exist because deep down, most of us want the same things as Ingrid. Like Ingrid, we get the sense that if we buy the same products and frequent the same restaurants as the Insta Famous that some of the cool will rub off on us and we’ll be accepted. It’s a nightmarish mix of envy and materialism blown up to terrifying proportions. And if Ingrid Goes West nails one point, it’s this: When self-esteem is directly linked to the number of likes you receive, none of us come out unscathed.
Ingrid Goes West opens in Miami on August 25.