One-Note "Ingrid Goes West" Is A Middling Showcase For Star Aubrey Plaza

For former “Parks And Recreation” breakout Aubrey Plaza, the passage from small screen stardom to big screen success has been choppy. Beyond a small part in cult favorite “Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World” and a starring role in indie charmer “Safety Not Guaranteed,” the actor has developed an affinity for sex comedy misfires, from the forgettable (2013’s “The To Do List“) to the disastrous (2016’s “Dirty Grandpa”). This writer skipped last year’s other Plaza starrer, “Mike And Dave Need Wedding Dates.” Reception was largely unkind.

Outwardly, social media driven comedy-drama “Ingrid Goes West” is the perfect escape from the blue comedy blues that have enveloped Plaza’s career, affording a showcase for her substantial acting chops. On the other hand, the movie’s innate superficiality is in line with the actor’s worst work, the material begging a shallowness that doesn’t lend itself to feature length. This is precisely what stops the movie dead by the halfway mark, eventually washing up as a one-note, less than insightful character study that isn’t the career pick-me-up it might have been.

Credit to writer-director Matt Spicer for not exploiting his mentally ill lead character for easy laughs. Ingrid Thorburn (Plaza) is not well, using an inheritance from her recently deceased mother to pack up and move from Pennsylvania to Los Angeles, California. It would’ve been easy as pie to mine Ingrid’s emotional volatility for slapstick, her awkwardness for weapons grade cringe comedy. Spicer and co-writer David Branson Smith don’t do it, and the movie is better – if surprisingly straight-faced – for it.

Venice Beach, like a glittery tractor beam of social artifice, pulls Ingrid in. To wit, a glamorous Instagram “influencer” named Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen) whose impossibly photogenic life perfectly numbs the negative connotations of the word “follower.” To “follow” her is to vicariously live her dream life, but for Ingrid it’s not enough. Our protagonist rents a house from a kindly Batman enthusiast and aspiring screenwriter named Dan (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) and immediately gets to work on befriending (stalking) Taylor.

When merely shadowing Taylor’s favorite hangouts proves fruitless, Ingrid resorts to dognapping, playing hero by both returning the pooch and declining the reward money. Taylor and her bearded art bro beau Ezra (Wyatt Russell) are understandably thrilled to have their furry friend back, receiving Ingrid into their inner circle almost immediately. To say that Ingrid’s obsession with her Insta idol spirals out of control is an understatement; she goes to lengths greater than dognapping to grow and then maintain their relationship, culminating in an intense tête-à-tête with Taylor’s cokehead brother Nicky (Billy Magnussen).

Once it becomes obvious that there’s no discernible arc at hand for Ingrid, no chance for salvation, a sense of inevitability sets in and the unpleasantness of the characters begins to wear. Only Dan is the least bit endearing, with Jackson following up his star-making turn in “Straight Outta Compton” with another multifaceted gem of a performance. He alone is almost reason enough to indulge the pic’s thin plot and suffer through a downer of a third act that flies in the face of its bubbly marketing campaign.

If “Ingrid” isn’t the millennial epic it wants to be, at least its digital bent never grates (an accomplishment in itself; social media is notoriously difficult to depict on film) and it righteously calls on us to reconsider the very notion of the Internet celebrity – the sort of vain, vacuous, talentless folks who have become famous for talking over video game footage on YouTube or letting their materialism run amok on Instagram or parlaying an inheritance into a reality show and then a place in White House.

As cinema, “Ingrid Goes West” is a near miss, not good enough to reverse the recent professional foibles of its star. (A similar theme and tone were captured much more successfully in season one of TBS’ underseen “Search Party.”) But at least what “Ingrid” asks of its audience is instructive. Who among us truthfully likes the reflection they see in their phone? The film has no answers, only questions, but it’s a good start in that it’s two hours not spent watching “Dirty Grandpa.”

-J. Olson

Rating: ★★ 1/2 out of ★★★★★ (Mediocre)

Release Date: August 11, 2017 (Limited)
Studio: Neon
Director: Matt Spicer
Screenwriters: Matt Spicer, David Branson Smith
Starring: Aubrey Plaza, Elizabeth Olsen, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Wyatt Russell, Billy Magnussen
MPAA Rating: R (for language throughout, drug use, some sexual content and disturbing behavior)