Aubrey Plaza stars in “Ingrid Goes West.” Photo Courtesy Of Neon.

“Ingrid Goes West” Features A Career-Best Turn From Lead Actress Aubrey Plaza

One way that I can describe Ingrid Goes West is that it feels like a feature length version of the “Nosedive” episode from Season 3 of Black Mirror because it depicts a mentally ill woman obsessed with social media. However, while “Nosedive” is a satirical cautionary tale on how people become so fixated on social media which is something that Ingrid delves into, Ingrid Goes West is more of a character study on mental illness about a woman using social media as a way to find personal connection that thrives thanks to its leading lady and its tragicomedy flare.

Ingrid Goes West follows a mentally unstable woman named Ingrid Thorburn (Aubrey Plaza) who is left alone after the death of her mother and ends up stalking people on social media, confusing liked statuses with meaningful relationships. Her latest obsession is LA-based lifestyle expert Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen) and she decides to move out west in order to befriend Taylor and weave herself into her life. But their friendship leads to disastrous results once Ingrid confronts Taylor’s coked-up brother Nicky (Billy Magnussen) and Taylor’s artist husband Ezra (Wyatt Russell) who see right through the facade that Ingrid has created for herself.

If you are familiar with Aubrey Plaza’s work as deadpan intern April Ludgate on Parks And Recreation, you will not see a trace of April here. Plaza gives a redefining lead performance as a woman who goes to extreme and obsessive lengths to claim someone all to herself but only because she yearns to escape her mental and literal solitude. There are traces of Plaza’s traditional deadpan humor but she still uses her dramatic capabilities to full effect, showcasing a woman who is unhinged and always turning on a dime without ever presenting her as a broad caricature. If there was any justice in this world, Aubrey Plaza would be in the running at the Oscars for Best Actress.

However, as great as she is, the supporting cast shines as well and the screenplay by Matt Spicer and David Branson Smith allows their characters plenty of development in terms of backstory and personality. Elizabeth Olsen is aces as Taylor, a famed Valley Girl who claims to be everybody’s best friend yet is proven to be vain and shallow, Billy Magnussen brings interesting finesse to his portrait of an outlandish party boy, and Wyatt Russell is naturalistic in his portrayal of a free-spirited artist fed up with the obsession with materialism that his wife and her newfound friend have.

But one actor that really steals the show is O’Shea Jackson, Jr. as Daniel, Ingrid’s Batman-obsessed screenwriter landlord that she slowly has feelings for. Jackson is irresistibly charming, owning every frame in which he appears, and he acts as a near parallel to Plaza’s Ingrid. While he’s not as obsessive as Ingrid, he still obsesses over Batman because like Batman, he is an orphan himself and wants to connect with someone who has some sort of connection to his life story. After seeing O’Shea Jackson, Jr. in this and Straight Outta Compton where he played a younger Ice Cube, I would gladly watch him in anything.

Aside from the way the characters are developed, another strength in the screenplay is how it makes us reflect on the way we view social media. Both the way we present ourselves and how we view others. When you follow someone who always posts happy photos on Instagram, you get the sense that they’re living these perfect lives yet when you talk to them or see them in person, you realize that it isn’t quite the case. Similarly, it’s easy for us to only post positive photos to make our followers believe that we’re super happy with our lives in order to hide the negative things going on in our personal lives from the public eye.

The aforementioned belief of perfection is demonstrated perfectly within the first few minutes where Ingrid is scrolling through photos posted by a woman she obsesses over and they are all photos about the woman’s wedding and her love life with positive hashtags, making Ingrid feel miserable. But whenever Ingrid sees someone like a post she makes or a photo she posted, she gets an instant feeling of euphoria which is something that those of us who use social media can identify with. Even if we regularly use social media without doing so on an obsessive level, we can identify with the feeling of someone liking our status making our day much better because it makes us feel appreciated.

Ingrid Goes West offers a biting look into the world of social media that acts as a character study about a woman yearning for connection and it makes us viewers who use social media rethink how we yearn for connection. It also features a revelatory performance from lead actress Aubrey Plaza who proved that she’s more than just April Ludgate and I’m anxious to..ahem, “follow” her and see what projects she does going forward.

Grade: A

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