Streaming’s Hidden Treasures: Ingrid Goes West

Image: Neon

Streaming has changed the way we view films. It is a change that has been welcomed by many and sniffed at by others. Like it or not, however, Netflix, Amazon and the like play a huge part in being a film-lover today. These platforms have vast amounts to offer, some of which is sorely overlooked. Streaming’s Hidden Treasures aims to pick out quality, different and lesser-known cinema from across the internet, offering a guide to a variety of entertainment with ease and affordability.

Director: Matt Spicer

Starring: Aubrey Plaza, Elizabeth Olsen, O’Shea Jackson Jr.

Streaming Service: Netflix

You’re probably sat at home right now, gazing out of the window into the unobtainable abyss that is the outdoors, wondering how on earth you’re going to get through another God-knows-how-many weeks of this. But fear not, for the Great Isolation need not be a time of mind-numbing boredom! This extra time provides the perfect excuse to watch some fabulous, lesser-known films, hidden in the darkest depths of our trusty streaming services.

Ingrid Goes West, for instance, the first feature film from director Matt Spicer, is well worth a watch. The black comedy follows Ingrid Thorburn’s (Aubrey Plaza) questionable decision to move to L.A. using her mother’s inheritance in pursuit of an Insta-famous influencer called Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen). She succeeds in befriending the seemingly perfect social media star, but at the cost of a web of lies, which Ingrid soon finds herself caught in.

Ingrid Goes West explores the toxicity and perils of social media, delving deeper than a surface level comment on how we shouldn’t get sucked in or take it too seriously. The film chooses to explore how and why social media can impact life so profoundly by using a character that is already vulnerable to the darker side of social media. Ingrid Thorburn (Aubrey Plaza) has recently been discharged from a psychiatric ward where she was admitted for stalking. Plaza is brilliant as the darkly comic (and downright creepy) Ingrid, and the film takes on an interesting character study as well as its analysis of social media.

To begin with, we are not prompted to form much of an opinion on Ingrid, other than to surmise that she’s a bit weird, a loner, and incredibly unstable. Her character could even be said to be one-dimensional at this point, with little to define her other than her recent hospital stint. 

As the film progresses, however, not only does Ingrid become more interesting, more sympathetic, and more readable, but we also start to see flashes of ourselves and our own relationship with social media in her – behaviours and desires that we initially put down to her insanity start to become recognisable, more grounded in normality. She becomes more human and relatable the closer she comes to total derailment.

It’s an interesting juxtaposition, having a character study unfolding alongside a film about how social media is a lie; we watch all these swipes and double taps over images that tell you nothing about reality, alongside the trials and tribulations of someone who becomes more and more real as the film progresses. Too often, we make the mistake of believing that social media can instantly tell us everything we need to know about a person. Ingrid Goes West reminds us that, actually, real people are always more complicated than that; it takes a whole film to unravel Ingrid’s character and life, and even by the end we still don’t know everything we want to. 

[Spoilers Here]

[As well as exploring the falsity of online personas, Ingrid Goes West also shines a light on fake friendships and insincere relationships. The people who appear in influencer Taylor’s pictures are only invited into her life for visual purposes, to contribute to her onscreen aesthetic, not for any merits they might have as people, or positive impacts they might have on her real life. All Taylor’s real life relationships seem to be constructed around the same laws that govern platforms like Instagram; followers and likers are purely visual gratification, having become mere numbers accompanying images, no longer representing individual people. There is no valuable or reciprocal exchange occurring between the follower and the followed, the liker and the liked, Taylor and friend.

This is made apparent in a scene that is all too familiar from early school days, where Taylor drops Ingrid for a new ‘best friend’ – a much cooler, more Insta-worthy fashion blogger called Harley Chung (Pom Klementieff). In the spirit of a child who has been given a new toy, bigger and shinier than the last, Taylor loses interest in Ingrid, and shrugs her off at a party they had planned to attend together. This scene highlights how there are no real loyalties between any of the characters on screen, no substance to any of the relationships formed there. Even the seemingly perfect relationship between Taylor and her husband Ezra (Wyatt Russell) is revealed to be underpinned by resentment and dislike. Nearly all the relationships are fragile or temporary. 

Ironically, the only relationship that seems somewhat fit to last, is the romantic one between Dan Pinto (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) and Ingrid. Yet Dan is the only character who, by the end, is still utterly in the dark about Ingrid’s behaviour. He doesn’t even know that their whole relationship was in fact born out of Ingrid trying to secure a party invite.]

[Spoilers End]

As well as these interesting, darker explorations, Ingrid Goes West is also plain good fun. If Ingrid’s unhinged behaviour doesn’t make you crack a smile, then Taylor, as the archetypal ‘everything-is-great-and-amazing’ influencer, certainly will. It’s a modern film, packed with humour, and when lies and secrets get out of hand, the plot takes wilder and wilder (and increasingly entertaining) turns. 

So, next time you find yourself pining for an end to quarantine, grab your laptop and give Ingrid Goes West a watch. Just don’t go on Instagram…

Jodie Sheehan