We’re all guilty of the “look at me, look at me” syndrome that comes with posting things on Instagram (some, like yours truly, guiltier than others). Ingrid Thorburn isn’t that person, but rather, the observer from afar who starts out with the simple Insta user name @ingrid_thorburn. And yes, she has trouble making friends in, let’s just say, a conventional, analog way. Rather, she jumps at any sign of friendly communication on the photo sharing app that has turned every civilian into an unwitting stalker whether he wants to be or not. As we later learn, her dying mother (who also conveniently leaves her $60,000 to do with what she will–stalk) was just about her only friend, the lingering hospital bed in their living room a surefire sign of just how much time they spent together.
But after a misconstrued amount of empathy from a Charlotte (Meredith Hagner), who just happened to comment on one post of hers after Ingrid’s mother died, our social media savvy heroine goes a bit cuckoo. Hence, the opening of the film commencing with tears streaming down Ingrid’s eyes as she refreshes her feed to see each new horror of a photo from Charlotte’s wedding, the location of which she is currently parked outside of before she storms the venue, maces her in the face and screams, “Thanks for inviting me, cunt!” Ah yes, the emotional roller coaster of faux friendship extrapolated from binary code.
Forced to go to a mental facility for a time, Ingrid emerges looking a little rougher and a little rawer. A chance run-in with one of Charlotte’s friends at the grocery store only exacerbates her fragile condition, yet it is another chance encounter via a magazine she’s reading while soaking in the tub that leads her to boho-chic mildly Instagram famous Taylor Sloane (@__welltaylored__), played with profound vacuity by Elizabeth Olsen. The article, entitled “Your Next Girl Crush,” tells Ingrid all she needs to know to get to Taylor: her user name. When Taylor actually responds to a comment, it’s all the encouragement Ingrid needs to rebrand to @ingridgoeswest, hop on a plane and move to Taylor’s neighborhood, Venice Beach. There, she promptly rents an apartment from Batman-obsessed aspiring screenwriter (what else?) Dan Pinto (O’Shea Jackson Jr., channeling Ice Cube), who little seems to mind her sketch finances–he has an immediate crush on her, after all. This is further corroborated when Ingrid immediately gets a notification telling her that @danpintoofficial has just followed her. It’s hardly the start she wanted, hoping somehow she’d get more interaction with Taylor.
Easing her way into the level of infiltration she’s about to enact, Ingrid starts slow: eating at the same restaurants as Taylor, going to the same hair salon, buying the same bag and, finally, attempting to manufacture a meeting with her at the store she’s shopping at. It isn’t until she kidnaps Taylor’s dog, Rothko, that she is finally invited into her and her husband Ezra’s (Wyatt Russell) home, thereby forging a totally viable friendship.
As Matt Spicer’s first full-length feature, the thirty-three year old director is all too in tune with a generation that is so comfortable with its voyeuristic behavior, it seems to be blissfully unaware of just how creepy and disturbing it all is–that we’ve opened the floodgate to a global population of socially accepted social media stalkers. Co-written with David Branson Smith, Ingrid Goes West isn’t just railing against the type of conditioning human beings have undergone with Instagram–the need, to refresh, repeat and see who and how many people have liked the glimpse into your life–but also the Instagram influencer herself. The girl that gets paid to tout avocado toast and clutch purses under the guise that her life really is this fabulous, and yours can be too if you emulate her. Olsen is the ideal casting choice for getting this message across, her phony baloney aura already present with the blonde wavy hair and “effortless” smile. To add depth to the shallowness of that which she endorses, Taylor’s pseudo-literary loves predictably include Joan Didion’s The White Album (the pages of which Ingrid will eventually wipe her ass with) and Norman Mailer’s The Deer Park. Ezra will later confess to Ingrid that The Deer Park is his favorite book, Taylor’s never even read it. And that, “Everything’s always the BEST. It’s exhausting,” with regard to how Taylor puts a spin on things.
And yet, even though Ingrid starts to see just how illusory it all can be, she wants nothing more than to cling to this friendship. Her disturbing rendition of K-Ci & JoJo’s “All My Life” while singing along with Taylor to it in Dan’s truck illustrates that Ingrid truly believes she cannot be “amazing” or “super cool” on her own. She needs the crutch of a fabulous friend to get other people to like her. And what better friend to help with this than someone as “Insta-famous” as token basic bitch Taylor?
In point of fact, Instagram is the apropos platform for allowing mediocre people to thrive in their “fame”-whoring and, in turn, feeding into those suffering from a lack of a strong sense of self or identity to adopt the traits of others that have been paraded as “it” people.
In essence, Ingrid Goes West confirms that we’re all trying so desperately to show we’re having a good time often without necessarily experiencing what we’ve just exhibited for “the world” to see–to stalk–from the comfort of their own bedrooms. Holden Caulfield’s worst nightmare realized, one imagines, is Instagram, a smorgasbord of phonies determined to stamp out anything that’s actually real.