Here’s the bad news: due to a conflict in schedules, I was unable to meet Elizabeth Olsen as I was expecting to, a few weeks ago. The good news is twofold: I get another opportunity (hopefully) in November and I got to see her latest film, Ingrid Goes West, before it comes around. I seem to remember reading in an interview with Olsen, quite a while ago, that she was itching to try her hand at comedy. Well, paired with Aubrey Plaza in this film, she finally gets that opportunity . . . kind of.
I say “kind of” for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the film is a comedy/drama mix, with a lean towards comedy. Secondly, Olsen plays the straight character, whereas Plaza and O’Shea Jackson, Jr., get the majority of the laughs (with Jackson actually getting the best lines). The film follows the desperately lonely and socially inept Ingrid Thorburn (Plaza) as she moves across the country with the sole intention of manipulating her way into being best friends with popular Instagram celebrity Taylor Sloane (Olsen). That obviously presents plenty of opportunity for laughs (of which there are many) but also allows exploration of an increasingly worrisome online social media community.
One of my local news channels has a new female anchor. She’s young, attractive, and active on social media. One of her posts popped up on my Facebook feed, one day, as I follow the news station she works for and they had shared it. I made the mistake of looking at the comments, wondering if I would sadly see what I fully expected to see. Unsurprisingly, I did. Almost every comment was from a male and almost all of those took an overly familiar tone. They were calling her “sweetie”, “darling”, “honey”, and any other variation you can imagine. They were complimenting her appearance. They were making unfunny jokes and truly awkward flirtatious statements that were far beyond humiliating (to them, not her). There’s nothing wrong with following a celebrity on social media. There’s nothing wrong with interacting with them, and it’s fun when they respond. But this type of attempted interaction has become endemic to social media. And it’s only one of the major problems.
Ingrid Goes West addresses all of these issues in a clever, thoughtful, and entertaining way. As so many in the real world do, Ingrid mistakes social media relationships for real relationships. Social media casts the illusion of intimacy. It gives everyone with access to the required technology the potential ability to connect and communicate instantly. They discuss their personal lives, habits, and interests and even a single reply or hint of interest from another member of the community can suggest a level of acquaintance that, in reality, simply isn’t there. And obsession is only a hop, skip, and a jump away. Along the way, real relationships with people in one’s actual circle can be ignored, abandoned, and allowed to atrophy, all due to the delusions of grandeur that social media can insinuate.
What happens from there is that people often become emotionally dependent upon this virtual attention and the validation provided from these people they have never met but with whom they so desperately desire to bond. They only present the best of themselves. They project phony versions of their personalities and their lives and even their appearances. The completely surrender their identities to strangers, allowing themselves to be molded by others on demand. If they try to be real, if they attempt to show the rougher sides of their lives, they’re often actively rejected and shut down. Others tell them to suck it up, to stop complaining, and to desist from cluttering up people’s feeds with their negativity. It’s a toxic and destructive environment when too much importance is placed upon it. And it’s destructive in the event of any outcome. Who does someone become when they put out their perceived best version of themselves to the world in order to feel loved and accepted and they fail? And who do they become if they succeed? Ingrid Goes West attempts to answer both questions.
Neither Ingrid nor Taylor are particularly likable. Both suffer from severe insecurities and neither have the slightest idea of how to be a real human being. The people around them are constantly frustrated and perplexed, dying to see one hint of authenticity. On the rare occasions that some genuineness peeks through from either of them, it’s as if dark clouds have parted to reveal a life-giving beam of sunlight. But both characters are perpetually wearing metaphorical sunglasses, unable to distinguish reality from the fiction that they have created for themselves and for those who care for them.
Plaza and Olsen, themselves, are both extremely likable, however, perfectly nailing their roles. Olsen gets to coast a little more, never really being pushed (Wind River is her star performance of 2017), but Plaza gets to stretch her skills. This is unquestionably her best performance and film. As I previously mentioned, O’Shea Jackson, Jr., often steals scenes as his character, Dan. Dan has an obsession with Batman that is all at once humorous, endearing, and relatable. In stark contrast to Ingrid and Taylor, he is 100% authentic and refuses to bend to the external pressures that are constantly assaulting him to conform to what others want him to be. His character wants so desperately to be a hero. The irony is that, unknowingly, that’s exactly what he is within the narrative of this film. It’s just not in the way that he would expect or even recognize.
I loved Ingrid Goes West. Not only did I thoroughly enjoy the performances from the entire cast, but the film highlights and condemns everything I have grown to hate about social media. Social media can be good. Real friendships and relationships can come out of social media, as long as it happens organically and naturally. Social media can be used as a quick source of information, as well. But when it is used as a replacement for real life and when it is misunderstood as false intimacy, as it very often is, it becomes dangerous on many different levels. I love that this film tackles the subject head-on and I love that it does so with great wit, charm, and poignancy. The film is timely and relevant – telling a story that couldn’t have even been conceived of, fifteen years ago. I only wish that I truly believed that the people who most need to the film actually will. Whether that’s you or not, if you look at a marquee and see Ingrid Goes West, I strongly urge you to tag along and go with her.
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