Ingrid (Aubrey Plaza) has not had the greatest time of it recently, after being committed to a mental hospital. She is there because one of her friends - well, let's call her an acquaintance - was getting married and posting all sorts of photos about it on the internet, but Ingrid, who had become obsessed with the woman, was not invited. What's a girl to do but sit in the car outside the party, crying and scrolling through the bride's posts, then get out the pepper spray and march up to her and let her have it, right in the eyes? How about not doing that? This is what she has to learn, but the way society is half-lived online these days sees her retreat to her phone once she's released - and notice someone new.
Aubrey Plaza should really be difficult to cast, she has a sardonic persona matched by her Satanic smile that seems to lend itself only to a very specific set of roles, but once she had found her niche, she found unexpected range away from simply being April from sitcom Parks and Recreation, and by the time she made Ingrid Goes West she was displaying a gamut of emotions that were not necessarily indicated by her other comedy work. She was supported by a fine cast, each of whom made some form of impression, but we never forgot this was an Aubrey Plaza movie and she took the part by the scruff of its neck and delivered an insightful yet self-aware performance, funny and worrying.
Not that we ever think in real life Plaza would ever get up to the sort of deranged behaviour Ingrid did, but that she could inhabit this personality as if to the manor born was a strong indication of where her abilities lay. Ingrid was the antiheroine who has been sucked into the online world, falling for the notion that it is the be all and end all of twenty-first century life hook, like and sinker, even though for many people it is not the best place to be. People like her, who is desperately lonely but is so off-putting in her monomaniac drive to be accepted by somebody popular so their popularity will rub off on her that it prompts her to acts of criminality, and when we meet her, she has a fresh target.
This woman is Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen), who is an online celebrity thanks to her way with reproducing platitudes and attractive images on her internet accounts, gathering followers by the hundreds of thousands and making a living by shilling for various corporations who sponsor her to endorse them to those followers. Director and co-writer Matt Spicer, graduating from short efforts to this debut feature, evidently had very little patience with such a shallow example of what passes for fame in the internet age, but he did not come across as some grumpy old Luddite, he was all too aware of how these phenomena were not going away and how your online persona has become more authentic than the manner you deal with the real world. It's difficult not to admit he had a point when everyone had their eyes on their phones at every opportunity.
Ingrid contrives to meet Taylor by, there's no other way of putting it, stalking the woman, finding out where she lives and spying on her every move: she notes she has a pet dog, so that gets kidnapped and she shows up the next day purporting to have found it, and no, of course she doesn't want a reward, but she wouldn't say no to a dinner invite. The thing was, almost everyone here was suffering a flaw in their character they would never dream of admitting in public, or online in public; O'Shea Jackson gave an excellent account of himself as the landlord of Ingrid (who pays for her move to Los Angeles with a sizeable inheritance) who is determined to be Batman movie screenwriter, but we then learn it's because he was an orphan at an early age. However, as this grows even darker, it becomes apparent the insatiable content monster that is your online presence will commodify even your most tragic experiences, and good luck not feeling used if you can turn that into a hashtag. If anything, Spicer was not acerbic enough, but this comedy drama had teeth, nonetheless. Music by Jonathan Sadoff and Nick Thorburn.