Take one part Single White Female, a dash of The Cable Guy, update it for the Instagram generation, and what do you get? A pretty good movie, as it turns out.
Ingrid Thorburn (Aubrey Plaza) is a lonely, thirtyish woman who spends her life fawning over acquaintances’ social media accounts. After crashing a wedding and assaulting the bride over a perceived slight, she’s forced to spend some time in a psych ward, where she convinces her doctors – as well as herself – that she’s been rehabilitated. Upon her release, she gains access to her substantial inheritance, and after becoming obsessed with Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen), a young, pretty Instagram star, she uses her newly acquired cash to move to Los Angeles. There, she cunningly inserts herself into Taylor’s life, winning her friendship as well as that of her struggling artist husband, Ezra (Wyatt Russell).
And really, where else could you set this movie but L.A.? The city’s image obsession, culture of self-promotion, and celebrity worship all make perfect targets for some truly cutting digs, all of them straddling the line between realism and satire. Take Ezra’s paintings: other artists’ work with internet slang garishly painted on top of them; the reason they’re so sublimely awful is because it’s all too easy to picture them in a modern art gallery.
At the same time, the movie refuses to let its characters devolve into simple types, imbuing even the most comedic of them with dimension and personality. Taylor may be a shallow poser whose “career” embodies the worst of white-girl hashtag culture, but her warmth and charisma make it easy to understand Ingrid’s infatuation with her. Dan (O’Shea Jackson Jr.), Ingrid’s Batman-nerd landlord, serves as comic relief at first but gains depth as the movie goes on. Even Nicky (Billy Magnussen), Taylor’s douchey brother, displays enough asshole charm to be likable and hateable at the same time.
Ingrid Goes West does an impressive job blending the comedy and stalker-thriller genres, never sacrificing realism for humor but still getting plenty of sharp, often uncomfortable laughs out of the material. Ingrid’s shameless sycophancy and lack of awareness make for some utterly brutal moments of awkwardness, all of which have an undeniable train-wreck appeal. The movie grows increasingly dark as it progresses, but does so gradually enough to be largely seamless. There are a few missteps, including some scenes that the director seems unsure whether to play for laughs or pathos, ending up with a clumsy mixture of both. But these are exceptions in a movie that, for the most part, shows an impressive deftness of tone, from its ominous beginning to its blackly funny ending.
Of course, this tonal juggling act would be impossible without Aubrey Plaza’s stellar work in the lead role. She keeps Ingrid wholly believable, giving life to a character who’s hilarious, pitiable, and unnerving all in equal measure. Even during the movie’s handful of faltering moments, she keeps it afloat with her impossible-to-ignore performance.