What happens if your online stalker happens to be just a sweet, lovable mess? Hard to imagine, but that’s the oblique question at the heart of Ingrid Goes West, where Aubrey Plaza plays the titular Ingrid, a sympathetic introvert with a need for attention from those at the top of the virtual trending list and an impulsive streak that often ends up going off the skids no matter the depth of her good intentions.
True to the title, Ingrid heads west after trading one unhealthy obsession for another. In the brief opener, we witness a vengeful Ingrid pepper-spraying a bride at a wedding that she’s not invited to. What gives? It turns out the wedding crasher with an axe to grind showed up because of one online thread where she and the bride-to-be briefly connected, and in Ingrid’s delusional mind, believed the two were instant besties. In the wake of the humiliation and shame — and a stay in a psych ward — Ingrid’s next fixation becomes a perky Instagram celebrity named Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen) who’s living the fab life in Los Angeles “influencing” followers as to what to buy and where to nosh. Ingrid can’t get enough of Taylor and with a $60,000 check from her mom’s estate, decides to cross the continent to check out the healthy avocado toast at the New-Agey cafe that Taylor “just loves.”
Ingrid’s goofy attempts to “accidentally” ingratiate herself to Taylor come off awkwardly endearing at first — so much so, you can almost forgive her for that mace incident — but then she kidnaps Taylor’s dog with the notion of being the hero that returns the Instagram famous pup. It works for a moment as Taylor and her floundering artist husband Ezra (Wyatt Russell), who makes hashtag art (yes, you read that right), take a liking to their new friend. Ingrid revels in the new union and postures that she has an actor boyfriend and a much more interesting life than that of a recently released in-patient.
It’s clear Ingrid’s a broken soul desperate for a human connection, virtually or otherwise, and just as the film looks as if there might be a happy ending in sight, with all the self-interested principals realizing their vapid material dreams, Taylor’s gonzo and good-looking brother Nicky (Billy Magnussen) shows up. He’s the most vapid of the lot, and loaded or not, he’s got it hot for Ingrid, digging in with malice, trying to unmask and shake her at every turn. The sudden unbridled vehemence subverts the film’s quirky buoyancy up to that point and matters turn Fargo dark as the plot moves in unexpected directions.
A darling at Sundance — writer/director Matt Spicer won the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award — much of the success of Ingrid Goes West can be attributed to Plaza, whose effusive effort makes her sociopathic wallflower character remarkably nuanced and empathetic beyond the pat idiosyncratic trappings she’s given to work with. It’s a tougher turn to pull off and more pivotal than Robert Pattinson’s bold embodying of a conniving street urchin in the recently released crime drama Good Time. The two films would make a heck of a double bill. Both are so energetic and bleak you could almost imagine movie goers coming out of such a pairing with cellphone in hand looking to move up their next appointment.
Besides Plaza’s breakout, the film gets a boost from O’Shea Jackson Jr. (Straight Outta Compton), as Ingrid’s Batman-obsessed landlord and stand-in boyfriend on a double date. He’s able to roll with the punches and sees the allure of Ingrid. Chances are, however, if Ingrid rolled up on your Facebook page and began to ingratiate herself relentlessly in the manner she does onscreen, you’d likely end up torn between a virtual hug and the block button.