Social media can really be a black-hole. After a long working day we may just think of spending few minutes on Instagram or Facebook before going to sleep, but soon the mindless scrolling mania kicks in. As we scroll and scroll and scroll to react at this ‘cool’ life of few unknown social media ‘friends’, it feels like we are trapped in a stupid, ugly cocoon. And before the elusive sleep eventually embraces us, we may think that achieving those things seen in the little square screens may dispel our frustration and loneliness. The casual stroll across the digital realm becomes a grim exercise in self-loathing. We seek respite from the sameness by pursuing after the fakeness. But is it a picture-perfect paradise for the allegedly famous people of social media with thousands of friends & followers? They may also contemplate the utter emptiness of obsessing with the mere aesthetic values of life; or caught in the habit of consuming everything but savoring nothing. Showcasing ourselves through self-deceiving images and the perpetual desire to be more visible have drastically changed the way we live our lives and the way we talk to people in real-time. Matt Spicer’s Ingrid Thorburn’s dark comedy of manners Ingrid Goes West (2017) depicts how far a sad, lonely individual goes to spice up the aesthetic beauty of her life, only to be gradually deluged by the fakery and lies. It’s not exactly a profound treatise on this culture of alienation and frustration, but it smartly addresses how the fixation for false narratives or false identity arises deep within us and not simply the effects of technology.
Following the trajectory of an addiction narrative, the film opens with Ingrid (brilliant deadpan performer Aubrey Plaza), a 20-something woman her face smeared with tears, deliriously scrolling down the photos of a wedding she wasn’t invited to. Later, she crashes into the wedding party and pepper sprays the bride for not inviting her. Ingrid saw the bride as a best friend who commented on one of her Instagram post. The truth is they barely know each other. After spending few weeks at the mental treatment center, she returns to her home, only to find that the absurd act of violence had made her an outcast among the local Instagrammers. It’s early hinted that Ingrid’s addiction is probably an outcome of mental health issues that rose after the death of her beloved mother. She mistakes a passing comment as the deep human connection. One night, she finds a new famous, self-advertised life-style icon in Instagram to obsess upon. The profile of Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen), a young gorgeous blonde woman, is riddled with sun-drenched pictures of beaches, unending supply of super-cool parties and viral hashtags. When Taylor casually replies to Ingrid’s comment on her Instagram pic, Ingrid’s destiny becomes clear. Uncontrolled by responsibilities, she takes $60,000 – money she inherited from her mother – and moves to Venice Beach, California, closer to Taylor’s neighborhood.
Ingrid’s friendly landlord Dan Pinto (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) is a self-confessed Batman fan and aspires to write spec scripts for Batman movies. After settling in, she decides to stalk Taylor and sample few of the things she suggests in her innocuous social media posts. To win Taylor’s attention, Ingrid steals her dog Rothko and returns it next day to glean gratefulness and immediately forge a superficial friendship. It works perfectly as Taylor spews superlative adjectives and hashtag-worthy words at Ingrid. Taylor lives with her full-time artist husband named Ezra (Wyatt Russell). His attempt at visual arts has so far only produced embarrassing results. Taylor is the breadwinner of the family and we can observe the possible friction between them, but for Ingrid who sees reality through the glow of iPhone screens, they seem like wonderful couples. Taylor talks of Joan Didion, Ernest Hemingway, and Norman Mailer with a tinge of cultural snobbery. A week later, Ingrid borrows Dan’s truck since Taylor wants to pop up to her house at Joshua Tree, California. In the trip, Taylor asks a gas-station attendant to snap a photo of both of them and she assures Ingrid that their friendship is special. Furthermore, Taylor confesses about her secret plans. Ingrid’s gratification derived from being part of Taylor’s inner circle is soon, however, threatened by the arrival of Nicky (Billy Magnusson) – Taylor’s obnoxious, cocaine-snorting younger brother. The lie she has spun comes back at her viciously to doom the fuzzy idea of friendship.
Matt Spicer’s movie owes a lot to director Alexander Payne’s restrained dramas that scrutinizes the myth of American Dream and also owes a little to Martin Scorsese’s King of Comedy (who knows what Rupert Pupkin could have cooked-up if he got to know about Instagram). Although there’s reference to Single White Female and the later-half of narrative teases to go Travis Bickle on us, the healthy dose of social satire (in the vein of Payne’s films) keeps it away from taking those unalterable violent paths. Spicer and David Branson Smith’s script is full of interesting dry comic flourishes. The date scene between Dan and Ingrid was particularly well written which makes us empathize for her even though the character isn’t really likeable. The casting is strong with Plaza and Olsen transcending certain conceptual flaws through their audacious performances. The character-driven script, however, falters in the final act as the rash, vapid decisions of Ingrid combined with irksome characterization of Nicky brings one contrived plot element after another. Part of the appeal of the movie is because we might have stalked some people on social media and envied their lives and other stuffs or tried to copycat their life-style decisions, etc. This relatability factor that binds us with Ingrid initially breaks up with the onslaught of inorganic plot mechanics (after the one-hour mark). It replaces outstanding satirical moments of the first-half with smug and ultimately frustrating narrative devices. The ending, however, is brash, if not morally depressing: acknowledging her imperfections to the strangers on Instagram doesn’t cure Ingrid’s addiction; it actually does the opposite. It seems easy to seek reprieve from the hell-fires of reality, but harder to climb up the slippery slopes of superficial social media.
Ingrid Goes West (98 minutes) is a timely and darkly funny drama on the culture of comparison and superficiality that plagues online social networking. It doesn’t censure Instagram or asks us to throw away our smartphones, but showcases how internet isn’t the happiest place for all. If the film had retained its satirical bite in the disappointing third act, it would have been a stand-out American feature of the year.