In trying to keep up with trends and technology, I am forced to keep learning new terms and acronyms just to understand what people are saying. It started with AFKs (“Away From Keyboard” and LOLs (“Laugh Out Loud”) and has evolved into empty things like MAGA (“Make America Great Again”). The irony about the time-saving effectiveness of using acronyms like this on applications and devices meant to waste time aside, you sometimes encounter one that perfectly defines a feeling or emotion. In this case, the acronym is FOMO, and to understand it is to understand the power of Ingrid Goes West.
FOMO stands for “Fear of Missing Out”, which is outwardly used in a playful manner to express envy, but could actually mask toxic feelings of jealousy. In a time where connectivity has become the norm, the fear of missing out on some experience or interaction has reached a phobia-like fever pitch. It has started fights, ended relationships, and, in some extreme cases, has even had fatal results. Have you ever posted something with the intent of making other people jealous? Put up a picture to humble brag? The person on the other end might just be a ‘like’ to you, but what are you to them? Ingrid Goes West offers a potential answer to that question, but the answer is much less pretty than that picture of the skyline you just posted with the hashtag “BLESSED”.
The film takes a look at our society by turning every character into a cliché of a type of person you’d encounter in real life, especially in the trendy parts of California. This may seem like a slight against the film but the way the story plays with these archetypes and the modern context everything is put in gives Ingrid Goes West a fresh and timely tint. Writer/Director Matt Spicer has never been one to shy away from a complex, flawed female protagonist (Flower, It’s Not You It’s Me) and Ingrid (Aubrey Plaza) is as complicated as they come. Spicer presents a protagonist suffering from one of the many toxic effects of emerging technologies that emphasize the online, social media experience. He shows us the damaging psychological effects they can have on an ordinary person but highlights the experience through the lens of someone with mental health problems.
Spicer paints this cautionary tale with contrasting hues. He frames every idealized moment with an Instagram picturesque quality that is meant to show the shallow beauty of those moments. The superficiality of these empty encounters mirrors the empty superficiality of the people and makes us realize that we don’t know the person at all. These Kodak-moment scenes are perfectly juxtaposed by the gritty imperfections of reality. Spicer uses these stark contrasts to let the audience know exactly what moments contain genuine emotion and which is meant to display the facade. While our protagonist Ingrid may have a hard time differentiating between the two, the audience is given a clearer view to her downfall and how easy social media makes it to blur the lines between real life and what essentially translates into performance art.
Being able to witness the evolution of Aubrey Plaza as an actress in this year alone has cemented her position as one of Hollywood’s most underrated performers. We have seen her mastery of comedy and timing, which also seems to come off as effortless, but her dramatic range has mostly been left untapped. Ingrid Goes West uses a wider spectrum of Plaza than we have seen in any other film or television show. Her humor flows naturally through her mannerisms and the questionable situations her character puts herself into, but at the same time there is a level of vulnerability there to temper many of her psychoses and give her a relatability to anyone who is part of the human experience. “There but for the grace of god go I,” is an apt way to describe her character because while most of us will never reach that extreme level, many of us will recognize our own self-reliance/addiction to social media. Ingrid Goes West is a funhouse mirror that reflects a problem in society by exaggerating certain features but remaining recognizable enough to get the message. Like the function of social media, Plaza’s character is our lens into this world, and her portrayal of Ingrid is the pumping heart of the entire film.
Plaza’s performance wouldn’t be as satisfyingly tempestuous without other forces to collide with, and each cast member plays their part flawlessly. Each actor displays their understanding of the nuances that go into their character’s role. Elizabeth Olsen is meant to be the fun, pseudo-intellectual that painstakingly frames her life through perfect pictures to feed off of the attention from others. O’Shea Jackson Jr. is meant to be the nerdy nice guy that is compassionate to a fault and is meant to be the exception to the rule. Billy Magnussen is the kind of person that would go to rehab to detox after a major bender. He is constantly looking for the next high or adventure and is not concerned with anyone else’s feelings, making him brutally honest in any conversation. These characters aren’t limited to Californian residents because you have encountered or might even be one of these types of people, giving the film an almost personalized relevance that keeps you engaged even when the events become cringeworthy.
Although Ingrid Goes West probably won’t have you disconnecting from your devices anytime soon, it’s ghost-of-social-media’s-present/future approach will carry enough weight to make even the most myopic of us draw a few parallels. In an age with an infinite amount of ways and places to connect with other people, this film shows how easy it has become to be alone in a crowd.