Reel Reviews: Spicer's Ingrid Goes West captures contemporary zeitgeist

The online world by necessity creates an environment of masks. Internet users must choose how much or how little they are willing to share of themselves and often will cherry-pick what they would like to represent their personal brand.

Directed by Mike Spicer, Ingrid Goes West focuses on the construction of masks as the titular character, played by Aubrey Plaza, travels westward to build a new identity on social media.

Ingrid Thorburn is an internet stalker with a violent streak. After ruining someone’s wedding, she decides to move to Los Angeles to find a minor Instagram celebrity, Taylor Sloane, after the latter responds to her comment once.

On the West Coast, Ingrid creates a new Instagram account, and with it, a new version of herself that is a near-facsimile of the celebrity.

Plaza’s character is similar in effect to most of the characters she has played over the years: sarcastic and selfish. She delivers dry wit in a scorching deadpan.

Ingrid is largely unsympathetic, chasing after the friendship of a stranger and the approval of the internet.

Her reinvention is a gradual process, visually laid out as a comparison to Taylor’s Instagram posts. Much like a teenager dressing like the “cool kids” to fit in, Ingrid changes her hair, clothes, speech mannerisms and hobbies to keep in line with Taylor’s branding.

There is a drastic shift between the first time Ingrid sees Taylor and the next, as she goes from looking tired and unkempt to highly stylized with obvious effort.

Ingrid Goes West captures contemporary zeitgeist, undoubtedly modern as it is. However, the prominence of Instagram in the story creates a danger of feeling dated, and the slang and distinctly modern style do not help.

Orson Welles once wrote that “film itself is a dead thing,” referring to the fact that nothing in film comes from the audience, as opposed to an audience’s relationship with theater.

Film is also dead because it sits in a can or on a hard drive in its completed state, while the world around it continues to move on. The months between the end of filming and eventual release can kill a film if it is too dependent on the trends at the time it was made.

As a result, Ingrid Goes West feels dated. As good as the film is, its expiration date feels much closer than it should be.

While Ingrid pretends to be like Taylor, the performative nature of Taylor’s existence is meaningfully explored.

Taylor reveals that she has never read her “favorite book.” She over-emphatically loves everything and seeks approval from those higher up on the fame ladder.

One of the most poignant moments in the film is in the making of an Instagram photo. Taylor and Ingrid pose, shift, re-pose, flash peace signs and ask the impromptu photographer to take a few more pictures.

The process exposes the amount of effort to make a single image.

A unique aspect of the film is its use of a female protagonist as a manipulator for the purpose of creating a relationship. Romantic comedies often have men using the circumstances presented to them in order to woo a woman.

Here, Ingrid steals Taylor’s dog and then responds to the flyer saying it was lost. Ingrid “bumps into” Taylor by going to her tagged locations on social media.

Ingrid’s conniving tendencies are a welcome change from the concept of a man manipulating circumstances to convince a woman to love him, controlling her from afar without her knowledge.

Ingrid is still a toxic character. She goes from pepper-spraying a bride to assuming the identity of a woman she does not know. She lies, steals and does not learn from her mistakes. Even so, the film carries itself well because it does not try to convince viewers that Ingrid is a good person.

As a comedy, the film does reasonably well. It has some good laughs here and there, though its best offerings are the themes regarding identity in the modern era. Some of the better jokes come as visual punchlines, specifically poking fun at Taylor’s husband’s art or Ingrid’s neighbor’s obsession with Batman.

Ingrid Goes West confronts concepts of celebrity obsession and falsifying oneself. As a cautionary tale in the guise of a fun millennial comedy, it is successful.

The film chips away at the comfort in hiding oneself behind filters, hashtags and carefully curated social media profiles.