There is a scene at the mid-point of Ingrid Goes West where the titular Ingrid goes on a date with her neighbour and landlord Dan (O’Shea Jackson Jr). Ingrid asks Dan why he likes Batman so much, he’s even got the Batman Forever soundtrack in his car. Dan tells Ingrid about how the Caped Crusader helped Dan cope with the loss of his parents when he was a child. It’s one of the sweetest examples of how pop culture can be a comforting force for good, and surprisingly how a love of a Joel Schumacher Batman film can be used as shorthand characterisation. It’s a terrific scene, and its placement at the heart of Ingrid Goes West is no accident. Unlike Dan, who has found a healthy, if a little silly at times, outlet for his own emotional problems, Ingrid is the exact opposite.
When this scene is put in context it takes on a darker reality, as Ingrid is only on a date with Dan because she has told the girl that she’s stalking that he is her boyfriend. It’s even more complicated than that for Ingrid. Played with a madcap energy by Aubrey Plaza (in a role that may even beat her star turn in Legion) Ingrid is a severely depressed woman who develops unhealthy fixations on women through social media. As the film begins Ingrid is marching through the middle of a wedding reception in order to pepper spray the bride: who Ingrid met online. In this opening scene, Plaza (who also produced), and director Matt Spicer skilfully portray Ingrid’s cycle of behaviour: hook on a woman, like all of her posts, then starts to feel closer to her, and when her behaviour gets to much she lashes out.
The trigger for this may have been the sudden death of her mother which, despite a long illness, still crushes Ingrid. After spending time in a psychiatric ward, Ingrid is released and moves to Los Angeles with the money her mother left her, in order to get closer to her new target, popular social media influencer Taylor Sloane, played by Elizabeth Olsen.
Ingrid Goes West could easily be a caricature of the social media age, where people advertise the best version of themselves online, but it manages to keep its satire sharp without bundling into straight-up criticism. Elizabeth Olsen’s Sloane may seem familiar, to regular users of these sites, but the film looks at the inherent loneliness and isolation this causes in her friendships and marriage to Wyatt Russell’s Ezra. As Ingrid manoeuvres herself into a position to get closer to Sloane, by stealing her dog, we see a selfish user who has started to believe her own hype.
That doesn’t mean Ingrid Goes West isn’t hilarious, it is. Along with the spot-on social commentary, the film also has one of the most comical sex scenes you will see this year, and Plaza and Olsen’s chemistry makes for some excellent capers. For a film that is supposed to be about shallow people it’s surprising that the performances are as strong as they are. Elizabeth Olsen puts in one of her best performances to date, perhaps even eclipsing Plaza a little, and Billy Magnusson deserves a special mention as Sloane’s nightmare of a brother, Nicky.
Ingrid Goes West is one of the year’s best comedies, filled the biting narcissism that makes up this digital age while also pulling the curtain back to show the loneliness at the heart of it. Plaza’s Ingrid is a formidable monster, but more importantly, Ingrid Goes West uses Batman better than Justice League ever could.