Spicer and his co-writer David Branson Smith go on to answer those questions with increasingly absurd and obscene examples. After a brief, court-mandated stint in a mental hospital, Ingrid moves on from the bride to a new focus of her obsessions, Taylor Sloane (Elisabeth Olsen). With her inheritance from her recently-deceased mother, she exchanges Pennsylvania for Los Angeles in the hopes of ingratiating herself to Taylor and her hundreds of thousands of followers. Being in a marketing mecca means Taylor is a far more serious Instagram personality than the bride was. The latter may have been beautiful and sun-dappled, but the former is an influencer, a person who can elevate and cripple businesses with a single post. Less a human than a brand, Taylor is everything Ingrid wants for herself, for people to pay attention to her and value her opinion and admire her from afar.
Some light sleuthing and stalking turns Ingrid on to Taylor’s favorite stores and restaurants, though she doesn’t have to try that hard since Taylor tweets out her location at every opportunity. Upon finding Taylor home, Ingrid breaks in and steals the dog, returning it to its grateful owners and parlaying the ‘good deed’ into a dinner invite. As a tentative member of Taylor’s inner circle, we meet the kind of people someone like her would surround herself with. Taylor’s husband Ezra (Wyatt Russell) is a pop artist who slaps Internet-age slogans onto the kind of inspirational photography one would find in a CrossFit gym, turning the banal into the mind-numbing. We also see Taylor briefly turn into Ingrid in the presence of a greater influencer than herself, losing her thin sheen of self-respect and shamelessly trying to get a selfie. Then, there’s Taylor’s brother Nicky (Billy Magnussen). Immediately in the running for worst person in a film stuffed with candidates, Nicky and Ingrid sense the stink of each others’ exploitative nature. He’s an abominable package of repulsive entitlement, an unpredictable cokehead coasting on his appearance and falling backwards into the opportunities and invitations that come from having money and good looks, Taylor without the artifice or the exhausting work of maintaining the illusion of her success at all times. Nicky is the only one who truly doesn’t care what other people think. There’s a sense that Sloane and Ezra would acquiesce if someone called them on their nonsense, where Nicky would smile and go on about his business.
The one person who I don’t want to see get a faceful of Mace is O’Shea Jackson’s Dan Pinto, an aspiring screenwriter and Ingrid’s landlord. A Batman nerd in a movie star’s body, Dan is the character with the least to hide and the most recognizable dreams. Where Taylor is too nice to be trusted, Dan is all on the surface, and it’s a relief to be able to like someone in Ingrid Goes West. He could’ve used more to his character beyond attraction to Ingrid, but Jackson’s easy charm makes this an acceptable absence. The thinness of his character means that Spicer’s klieg lights don’t shine as brightly on him as they do others, and conversely he’s the only one where success is a worthy and hoped-for destination. Fatally flawed by the possibility of a romantic relationship with Ingrid, he falls for her despite her superficiality and obvious sketchiness, suffering the increasingly-drastic consequences.
As Ingrid, Plaza puts the cap on a breakthrough year for her career and the perception of herself. It would have been easy to coast on her honed persona as the acerbic and aloof sidekick that she played in Parks and Recreation. She sticks to that kind of role in The Little Hours as a foul-mouthed nun, but between her gonzo role in Legion and her raw performance in Ingrid Goes West, Plaza demonstrates that her talent is unrestrained by what she’s done previously. Ingrid is a destructive individual in need of professional help, and Plaza gives this anti-hero enough pathos to make her flawed decisions painful. The greatest testament to her performance is that when she risks failing in her ill-conceived goals, the viewer gets a twinge of sympathy instead of the twisted glee that accompanied the perfect bride being assaulted. Olsen is perfectly cast and matched against Plaza thanks to who her family is and what she brings to the table. She’s an actress who can play vulnerable and honest, but she withholds all of that as Sloane, a person who has maybe never had a true moment in her adult life. She’s the suitable object of affection for someone as twisted as Ingrid, all appearances without any semblance of inner thought or self-examination.
Community aired a late-series episode where the college is inundated with Meow-Meow-Beanz, a social ranking system that proceeded to rewrite the social hierarchy based on how many Meow-Meow-Beanz students acquired. Thanks to the pseudo-futuristic set dressing and the fundamental absurdity of it, the episode was a brief sojourn into the realm of the Twilight Zone or Black Mirror, but a few years later, Ingrid Goes West demonstrates that Meow-Meow-Beanz didn’t have to be nearly as nonsensical. Likes, followers, impact, retweets, it’s all currency carefully designed to turn individuals into brands, pushing consumption and commerce. Ingrid experiences pure, unadulterated joy from nothing more than a number ticking up. Ingrid goes west and finds herself, but this version isn’t one that’s worth it. Ingrid’s a descendant of the girls of The Bling Ring and Spring Breakers, strivers who are striving for nothing. As empty as their pursuits are, they’re still compulsively watchable. A-