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Directed by 33-year-old Matt Spicer, Ingrid Goes West is the dark indie comedy of the summer. Starring the queen of deadpan deliveries, Aubrey Plaza, and indie darling/Marvel badass Elizabeth Olsen, the film is a tale of obsession for today’s millennials. In the age of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, being a stalker has become the norm: we follow friends, but mostly strangers on various forms of social media and get a constant flow of personal information thrown our way in the form of likes, unlikes, tagged locations and so forth. We often feel like we know these people because of all the sharing, yet we tend to willfully ignore the curated nature of these platforms and how easy it is to forget that there is more to people’s lives than meets the eye.

We open with an Instagram slideshow of every Pinterest perfect wedding you’ve ever seen on social media, accompanied by a bubbly voiceover unironically reading the various captions and emojis; a manic Ingrid is furiously scrolling through the posts while sitting in her car, which is parked right outside of where the ceremony is taking place. Armed with mace, she attacks the bride for not inviting her. And for a moment, we think the bride is kind of terrible. Then, we quickly learn that the two women weren’t friends in real life. In fact, the bride is a stranger who had left a kind comment on one of Ingrid’s post. Delusional and still grieving the recent death of her mother, Ingrid emerges from a brief stint at the psych ward with a new mission: move to picture perfect Los Angeles and befriend Taylor Sloane, a “photographer”/ social media influencer who Ingrid finds in the pages of a fashion magazine.

Taking out 60K in cash from her mother’s fund, Ingrid gets to LA and moves to Taylor’s neighborhood, Venice Beach, where she rents an apartment from Batman-aficionado Dan Pinto (played by O’Shea Jackson Jr.), who immediately takes a liking to the awkward and unhinged Ingrid. She quickly finds a way of inserting herself into Taylor’s life, first by stalking her Instagram feed and going to her favorite spots and then, by kidnapping her dog and bringing it back the next day once the reward posters have been put up. Ingrid’s fantasy soon becomes reality as she and Taylor share that typical surface level mid-twenties friendship based on glossy social status, posed pictures, hard drugs and meaningless banter. But nothing lasts forever, especially in the vapid and cruel world of LA. So, when Taylor’s coke-head brother, Nicky, unexpectedly shows up with an “Insta-famous” girl, Ingrid is swiftly pushed to the side and forgotten, which we have already seen does not fair well. 

Ingrid Goes West is a smart movie that tackles timeless themes, such as loneliness and the difficulty of making real connections in today’s social media-driven reality. Spicer takes notes from classic stalker movies like Single White Female, The Talented Mr. Ripley and The King of Comedy, but completely reimagines the genre for today’s audiences: the cringe comedy begins almost immediately with Ingrid’s all too familiar morning routine of waking up with her phone in her hand, brushing her teeth, going to the toilet and getting dressed, all the while tirelessly scrolling and liking every picture on her feed; let’s be real, who hasn’t done that? Spicer effortlessly unravels the inauthenticity, depression and loneliness that stems from the need for constant online affirmation by making its protagonist a multilayered and complex female anti-hero rather than a mere punchline. Aubrey Plaza plays crazy and vulnerable Ingrid with incredible versatility and the film’s P.O.V. style is so engrossing that we find ourselves inexplicably rooting for Ingrid and somewhat understanding her messed up plans and underlying motivations. Even Taylor isn’t tagged as the villain, as her character is equally repulsive and magnetic and becomes three dimensional once we find out from her lowkey alcoholic “artist” husband that she is deep down a reinvented phony like everyone else, a “basic sorority girl” who moved to LA in the hopes of making it, much like Ingrid is doing now. The three male characters are also great, with O’Shea Jackson Jr. stealing the show in every scene he’s in by bringing much needed realness and charm. Two of the film’s best scenes involve him: the first takes place in a crazy-looking tiki bar where Dan and Ingrid go on a date and turns into one of the most vulnerable and intimate moments in the entire movie. The second is possibly this year’s greatest sex scene involving Aubrey Plaza role-playing as Batgirl in a hot pink neon lit bedroom.

Ingrid Goes West tackles this generation’s need to curate idealized versions of our lives on social media, the performative nature of our lives on these platforms, the blurring boundaries between follower and friend and, more basically, the difficulty of making friends and knowing how to fit in by showing just the right amount of your real self to just the “right people”. Ingrid’s foolish quest for validation induces many cringe moments throughout the movie because some of her less crazy behaviors are so relatable it is truly discomforting.

When discussing how he and fellow co-writer David Branson Smith came up with the idea for Ingrid Goes West, Spicer says: “David and I were having lunch and talking about our mutual love of Instagram and social media and the conversation led to how social media leads us to make us feel bad about ourselves and feelings of insecurity, feeling we are not good or cool enough, whatever it is. Social media has the potential of bringing out the worst in you, to have the dark side that exists within all of us come out to second guess ourselves. We were looking for a way to explore those ideas and that is how the character of Ingrid came about.”

When Plaza joined the team as the star and producer, she and Spicer immediately connected: “We really trusted the women in the film and around the film and we tried to get a lot of input from them. Once we cast Aubrey and she came on as producer, I told her I did not want to approach Ingrid like a comedy and I thought that it was cool that our first goal wasn’t necessarily to make people laugh but to be truthful to this character and wanting to portray her honestly. And of course the humor is great and that is why I love dark comedy, it allows you to laugh at uncomfortable things which makes the whole process more entertaining.” He went on to explain that “The point of us making this movie was to see: are we being intentional with the way we use our phones and the way we use social media or is it a primal need for attention and need to connect?”

When asked about his influences, Spicer says: “We are informed by the films you see, like and respond to. You want to add something new to the conversation that hopefully feels unique. We have seen a lot of male anti-heroes like Nightcrawler, King of Comedy, Taxi Driver but there are so few female anti-heroes. So we thought “Here’s a way we can tell a story that you don’t see that often.” And when asked about working with Plaza and Olsen, “As someone who loves movies, I want to see people do stuff they haven’t done before, see them step out of their comfort zone. I was just so lucky that they both wanted to try something different and not be afraid to fall on their faces.”

The film’s hazy look filled with warm tones resembling the popular Valencia filter on Instagram was also a conscious decision: “We wanted a very specific look so we tested a lot of lenses until we found some old Panavision lenses from the 60s that had that warm hazy quality to it that feels like there is a filter on it. And being old lenses, there are also tiny imperfections that create focus quirks on the edge of the shot and it was our way to subtly layering this idea that the most perfect picture can have blemishes and mistakes too.”

As for the soundtrack, “The music was tricky because I had to rethink the soundtrack in post-production and my editor and I started talking with the composer and we came to the conclusion that the music should reflect what is going on in Ingrid’s head, so it is okay if it feels chaotic and schizophrenic all over the place because that is how she feels. In the movie there often is something really creepy happening, but the score is playful, so it creates disconnect. It should be creepy music, but it is quirky and fun because in her mind what she is doing does not seem that bad. It was us trying to get inside her head so the audience could relate to Ingrid more rather than judging her. We also wanted to avoid using the score to tell the audience how to feel, as it is more unsettling when there is a disconnect between what you see and what hear.”

When asked about the ending, Spicer kept it purposefully vague: “We knew the ending would be divisive and it has been interesting to hear all the different reactions. A lot of people have said it is a tragic ending while others have said that it is hopeful because Dan is there by her side so maybe there is a chance for her. All I will say is that we wanted to present her with two directions she could go in: on the one hand she has Dan. She has what she needs, which is someone real who cares about her, is okay with who she is and does not expect her to be anything else, a kindred spirit who has dealt with trauma. On the other hand, she has this outpouring of love and support from complete strangers online which is what she has wanted for the entire film. In my mind we have seen Ingrid be self aware in the scene before where she has this moment of self realization, so the question in the end is will she change? Is there hope for change or will she go right back to her old ways? We wanted to avoid nailing a point and end up making it an after school special. Ingrid’s story continues, but it ends for you in the audience so you decide where she goes from here.”

2 thoughts on “Ingrid Goes West: Interview with Director Matt Spicer Leave a comment

  1. I am trying to get into the movie pass app with no success. I received the card. I keep requesting my movie pass pass word to be reset and never get an e-mail link. HELP please.

  2. Can you write a blog post about an official statement from the company of what’s going on with the cards being shipped out? And provide more opportunities for support? How are people that ordered 3-5 days after me receiving their cards while it’s been about 2 and a half weeks since I placed my order?

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