INGRID GOES WEST * *
Starring Aubrey Plaza, Elizabeth Olsen, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Billy Magnussen and Wyatt Russell. Screenplay by David Branson Smith and Matt Spicer. Directed by Matt Spicer.
Second only to this year’s Personal Shopper when it comes to mining suspense from those three little dots that always appear and then rudely vanish while you’re waiting for a text, director Matt Spicer’s Ingrid Goes West has more social media savvy than most movies. But then considering how cloddishly Hollywood has fumbled about with the information age, that’s actually not saying much.
Aubrey Plaza, who elevated leggy disdain into an art form on TV’s Parks And Recreation, here hurls herself into the role of desperately unlikable internet stalker who becomes fixated on a minor Instagram celebrity, played to shallow perfection by Elizabeth Olsen. The screenplay by David Branson Smith and director Spicer is wise enough to not even try satirizing selfie culture, instead allowing the actresses to read their vapid hashtags and “prayer hands emoji” in bone-dry voice over narration, observing the importance of being photographed with the right books, whether or not you’re actually reading them.
There’s a recklessness to Aubrey Plaza’s performances that I fear the movies haven’t quite figured out what to do with yet. The perverted gusto with which she threw herself at Robert De Niro in the otherwise atrocious Dirty Grandpa was at times genuinely uncomfortable, ditto for the clingy neediness with which she here pursues her co-star. Indeed, for as long as the filmmakers are trying to make a King Of Comedy for the Instagram age, she’s a worthy Rupert Pupkin. Olsen serves as a fine enough Jerry Langford, carrying herself with the unfussy composure of someone who’s lived her whole life in front of a camera.
About halfway through there’s a finely wrought scene in which Olsen’s (terrible) artist hubby –strikingly well-played by Wyatt Russell– drunkenly reflects on the absurdity of his wife putting a roof over their heads by taking pictures of herself with various products, but there marks the end of everything Ingrid Goes West has to say about social media projections versus reality. The charmless Billy Magnussen shows up moments later as Olsen’s sleazebag brother, who quickly figures out that his sister’s new best friend isn’t all she claims to be.
Before long we’re caught up in moronic blackmail and kidnapping schemes, with O’Shea Jackson Jr. cast bizarrely against type as a dorky comic book nerd mooning over Plaza despite her increasingly horrid behavior. The movie’s wry observations give way to over-the-top antics and broad set-pieces Spicer seems unsure whether to play for yuks or something tougher. It’s deflating to watch a film start out wanting to the be The King Of Comedy and settle for Single White Female.