We meet Ingrid (Aubrey Plaza), the rather unstable protagonist at the center of the cringe-inducing social media comedy "Ingrid Goes West," at a particularly low point. Camped outside a lavish wedding she wasn't invited to, Ingrid sits raccoon-eyed and sobbing, scrolling through the picture-perfect Instagram photos rolling in from the event. Finally she works up the nerve, storms through the doors, walks up to the head table, and maces the bride in the face.
That incident results in a restraining order and time in a mental ward, but Ingrid emerges none the worse for wear, and it isn't long before she finds herself a brand-new online obsession: Instagram "influencer" Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen).
Captivated by Taylor's glamorous, Boho-chic, California lifestyle and desperate for connection, Ingrid drops everything to head west and make Taylor her new best friend. Like a modern "Single White Female," Ingrid does indeed worm her way into Taylor's life (and more importantly, her Instagram feed). But trouble is on the horizon, as Taylor turns out to be just as phony and infinitely more vapid than Ingrid -- though in a more socially acceptable way.
Skewering social media addiction and the contrast between our real lives and what makes it into the images we post online, writer-director Matt Spicer understands the rush that comes from every "like" and new follower providing quantifiable proof that we matter to someone out there. What wouldn't we do to get a little more of that sweet satisfaction?
Plaza gets to show some range in a role that still manages to capitalize on the actor's intense gaze and ability to add a slight hint of menace to everything she says. And Olsen is delightfully flighty. But the most surprising thing about Spicer's film is how it refuses to treat either woman as merely a punchline; both have more layers and complexity than we expect. Best of all, though, is Ingrid's Batman-obsessed landlord (O'Shea Jackson Jr., practically walking off with the entire film) who gets dragged (only somewhat willingly) into Ingrid's schemes.
The last act gets somewhat less interesting as a criminal plot enters the mix, and as satire, the film's messages can tend toward the obvious. But sometimes the obvious should be said out loud.