Social Media and Relationships are Ethereal in Ingrid Goes West

Ingrid Goes West (directed by Matt Spicer) almost forces you to begin a review with a meditation on social media. Is it good? Is it bad? The movie makes a strong case for neither, which is far from a weak statement. Like any advancement in humanity’s history it will exacerbate your weaknesses and expand your strengths. It is, in essence, what you make of it.

Ingrid Goes West was a lot of firsts for me. It was the first time I saw a movie at the Alamo Drafthouse, it was the first time I watched a Q&A about the movie right after a movie (Aubrey Plaza and Elizabeth Olsen were just just one theater over from me!) and it was the first great social media movie I’ve seen. Probably the last is most striking (sorry Aubrey & Lizzy).

Depicting our incessant media obsession on screen has been a challenge for screenwriters and directors for a long time. That its a part of current culture (an all consuming part) is inescapable, but it simply doesn’t make for great visual content. Staring at a screen is inherently boring, so kudos to Spicer and Aubrey Plaza for making it interesting. We see a decent amount of social media, but we also get a good look at the way it affects people. Most of the social media jumps off the “screen” (the phones the actors are looking at) and onto the screen (the actual movie screen). By making the movie mostly reactions to social media the social media itself becomes this invisible force hovering around the characters at all times.

Social media in particular affects the film’s lead, Ingrid. Constantly on her phone, we first meet Ingrid as she maces a woman whose wedding she was not invited to, even though Ingrid believes the two of them to be good friends. After a brief stint in a psych ward Ingrid is allowed to return to her empty house, where she resumes her incessant phone tapping and scrolling, liking Instagram photo after Instagram photo. Stumbling upon Insta celeb Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen) Ingrid grows obsessed, cashes her inheritance and moves to LA to “bump into” Taylor and integrate herself into Taylor’s life.

The whole movie feels almost like a bad dream – it is quick and more importantly, it is murky. The characters are shadowy and difficult to pin down, a theme that goes hand-in-hand with social media. Are our online personas a true representation of who we are? Are our public personas? Do people even pay enough attention to each other to notice each other? The disorientation is compounded by our POV. The movie is shown to us through Ingrid’s eyes, but it is near impossible to get into her headspace. By casting her as a protagonist but keeping her at a distance the movie becomes tense due to the unseen and unknown. The other characters are no help either: Taylor is equally difficult to pin down, as are her despondent husband Ezra (Wyatt Russell) and her “sober” brother Nicky (Billy Magnussen). Shepherded by a person we can’t predict through a land of people we can’t parse out the whole movie feels a little like we need something to grab onto.

That too is purposeful. Later in the movie, as Nicky begins to get wise to Ingrid’s trickery, he asks her point blank: “what do you want from her [Taylor]”. “I just want to be her friend, okay?” answers Ingrid. The strangest part is, though it seems like some lame excuse for more insidious motive, it’s the truth. Just because we can’t exactly predict Ingrid’s next move doesn’t mean we can’t sympathize with her: she wants to be noticed, and she wants a connection. She wants friendship. And like social media, these are things that are constantly swirling around us, but that we can’t see. What is a friendship? Where does it exist? In the invisible space between two people, but there’s no guarantee those two people think of it the same way or value it the same amount. What’s worse, connections and relationships can change: you can have it today and lose it tomorrow. With social media we are becoming more and more aware of the divide between different faces people can wear: we present ourselves one way, but may feel a different way. We present ourselves different ways in different situations. These are not new things, and they are not bad things, but they are things that social media has highlighted.

Social media also makes it easier to constantly test these connections, which can be dangerous if you’re an anxious person. That’s one of the reasons this film spoke to me. It’s taken me years to negotiate how to have relationships over social media. When I was younger I was big into constant contact (hell, AIM was probably constantly open throughout the beginning of my high school career – I had conversations with people from morning to night). Fights can roil over, and neglect can feel real, but that’s not a reasonable way for everyone to live. As with any new form of communication it’s a negotiation: how do we live with this in our lives, and how do we manage ourselves with this new ability? It’s something I’ve worked out with different friends: “I want to talk everyday, you’ve never texted in your life, so I’ll tone it down but you respond more.” Or some such… each one is unique, and each one has taken some figuring out.

But that’s just how life works. Ingrid Goes West should be commended for its handling of Ingrid and her social media addiction, for her belief (necessitated by her loneliness) that internet connections count as real connections. The movie doesn’t suggest social media “broke her”. It suggests she has some things to work out in her relationship with social media, with others, and with herself. Social media is just a vehicle. In the Q&A following the film Elizabeth Olsen said “I think she just wants to be recognized, which I think is the main reason for almost everything good that’s happened and also everything bad.” It’s a wise remark, and one exemplified by the movie. Seeking connection, validation, recognition and using social media are not things that are inherently good or bad, it’s what we make of them that matters, and how we foster our relationship with those different facets of ourselves.

Not everything about this movie works. The ending is almost too kind, except to Dan Pinto (the films blatant example of a “perfectly adjusted person” played by O’Shea Jackson Jr.) who ends up forgiving too much crap – an ending that bothered me so much it costs the film a whole “1” off it’s score. It swings a little too often from broad comedy to cringe comedy, and is too middle of the road to push its outrageous elements to their greatest heights and its darker elements to their deeper depths. But overall it is a success, a movie about social media that makes it visually interesting and doesn’t condemn or condone it, or the characters, but rather treats them all fairly.

Ingrid Goes West gets 8.5 blessed emojis out of 10 heart emojis.

OTHER THOUGHTS:

  • I saw this movie at the Alamo Drafthouse and had a margarita with a corona tipped over into it which was delicious but which it turns out I don’t know how to drink you’re not supposed to remove the corona, are you? I didn’t. The Alamo Drafthouse gets 9/10.
  • Seeing a Q&A after a film with the creators of it is pretty interesting but also a little weird. I feel like I didn’t quite get a chance to form my own opinion, and was mostly nervous that I’d disagree with something the filmmaker or actors said. But overall I thought they did a pretty nice job, and were pretty fair in their assessment. My only real complaint is that it was one theater over and I had to watch it on a screen even though I knew I was in the same building as all these cool people. I didn’t know I wanted to meet celebs so badly but it turns out I do. I was really hoping Elizabeth Olsen and Aubrey Plaza would invite me out for drinks after the Q&A but that didn’t happen. The Q&A gets 8.5/10.
  • Elizabeth Olsen’s outfit at this premiere looked like she was at a cool space opera – it was sort of a cape and sort of a jumpsuit. It gets a 10/10. Pale blue and red are an awesome combo.
  • I kept thinking about this Liz Lemon quote during this movie.
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2 thoughts on “Social Media and Relationships are Ethereal in Ingrid Goes West

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