All Ingrid Thornburn (Aubrey Plaza) wants is to have a best friend. Her need to have one is of the obsessive kind, and because of that Ingrid has had issues connecting with others. Early on in the Matt Spicer-directed film, Ingrid Goes West, Ingrid is on her phone furiously scrolling and clicking on pictures of Charlotte’s (Meredith Hagner) beautiful wedding. Ingrid, though, wasn’t invited, and out of spite she crashes the reception and maces Charlotte. Audiences quickly realize Ingrid is crazy, and the fact she and Charlotte aren’t real-life friends (they know each other through Instagram) only fortifies that notion. Spicer (along with co-writer David Branson Smith) has concocted an interesting tale which focuses on the highs and lows of engaging in social media.

As a result of Ingrid’s actions, she spends some time in a mental hospital. Once she’s out, Ingrid continues her obsessions and looks for another friend (although through narration Ingrid writes letters to Charlotte, who unsurprisingly has a restraining order out on Ingrid). Enter Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen) a photographer and social-media influencer leading seemingly-perfect life whom Ingrid discovers from a magazine article. Almost as quickly as Ingrid drops in on Charlotte’s wedding she moves out to Venice Beach where Taylor lives with her husband Ezra (Wyatt Russell). Obviously, things are about to get crazy since Ingrid displays all the symptoms of a stalker.

In 97 minutes, Ingrid Goes West paints an arresting view of increasingly alarming behavior within today’s society. Spicer, through Ingrid, allows us to see how much we value social media and, more aptly, how many value being liked. These days it’s all about the number of likes one gets and the supposed validation which comes with that.

What’s interesting is that Spicer doesn’t pass judgment. Audiences are able to identify with Ingrid because Spicer shows a more sympathetic side of the lead. The reason why it works has a lot to do with Plaza. Many of her roles have highlighted a clear indifference within the actress which comes off as annoying and bothersome, but in some ways that characteristic serves the Ingrid character well. It seems as if Plaza identifies with Ingrid, which comes off as scary, but ultimately audiences may identify with some of Ingrid’s behavior, too. I think Plaza and Spicer realize that and it pays off handsomely as the story progresses.

In addition to Plaza’s performance, O’Shea Jackson Jr. proves his rousing turn as his real-life father Ice Cube in Straight Outta Compton was no fluke. Jackson Jr. plays Dan Pinto, an aspiring screenwriter and landlord who wrestles with his own obsession – Batman. At the same time, Dan is curious, even enamored with Ingrid, which sheds light on the more traditional, more commonly-accepted early stages of voyeurism and obsession. Jackson Jr. is fantastic as he’s the audience’s surrogate and comic relief.

Elizabeth Olsen is memorable, too. She rounds out a trio of strong performances, bringing life to a character that could’ve easily come off as one-dimensional. As Taylor, Olsen plays a person whose life looks flawless and is perfect for someone like Ingrid to obsess over, but upon closer inspection her life is maybe as imbalanced as her stalker’s. It makes Spicer’s observations more interesting and somewhat clouds what constitutes living a healthy, normal lifestyle.

With Ingrid Goes West, this indie makes timely and astute observations of today’s societal norms. It takes a serious approach without getting too heavy since there is plenty of humor scattered about. Probably the only complaint I have is that Spicer is maybe a little too sympathetic towards Ingrid, but since his intent is merely to observe and shed light on this behavior he gets a pass. Overall, Ingrid Goes West is an excellent feature which is as timely as it is interesting.

4 stars out of 5

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