Every generation gets the Single White Female it deserves, and some are bound to age better than others. Ingrid Goes West, a hypercurrent satire of Instagram celebrity and the kinds of lifestyle aesthetics that flourish there, is such a vivid and minute portrait of our boho-chic, mid-century modern, reclaimed wood, custom typography, shrub-swilling, microgreens-on-heirloom-quinoa moment that the characters can be outlines, and it doesn’t really affect the ride. Director Matt Spicer’s Sundance breakout is a friend-crush tale as old as time, modeled almost to a T on The Talented Mr. Ripley (without the murder). As such, your mileage will vary depending on whether or not you’ve ever been to Café Gratitude and how much of a tolerance you have for Aubrey Plaza. Enough of Ingrid’s millennial shots hit their mark to make it feel like a cultural time capsule, at the very least.
Plaza plays the titular Ingrid, an emotionally stunted young woman living in Nowheresville, Pennsylvania, grieving the recent death of her mother. It’s clear that she already has a history of unhealthy, internet-fueled fixations when she discovers Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen) in an Elle profile that documents her perfect, Insta-ready life. Ingrid looks up Taylor’s account, and immediately Spicer takes us down one of the most deft cinematic recreations of an internet rabbit hole I’ve ever seen, a manic, rhythmic montage of Taylor’s immaculate timeline. “Morning vibes,” Olson intones in voice-over, without a hint of irony. “Another day, another avocado toast.” It’s equal parts terrifying and intoxicating, and when Ingrid takes the $60,000 left behind by her mother to go to Los Angeles and start a new life for herself in Taylor’s shadow, we get it.
It doesn’t take long for Ingrid to track down Taylor, nor for her full-blown sociopathic side to take the wheel. After “rescuing” Taylor’s dog and returning him to her and her hapless husband Ezra (Wyatt Russell, who continues to add an unexpected charm to everything he’s in) she manages to endear herself to Taylor, mostly by just “happening” to have the same taste as she does. Taylor and Ingrid become fast friends, in the superficial, cooing, “ohmygodIloveyou” way that anyone who has ever been a 20-something woman knows well. They consummate their love, in perfect Southern Californian form, at the hallowed desert watering hole Pappy and Harriet’s, over margaritas and cocaine and K-Ci and JoJo’s “All My Life.”
There is actually room here for a truly gutting satire, informed by the dichotomy of Taylor’s Über-enthusiastic consumerist rah-rahing and Ingrid’s grief-hollowed, naturally depressive temperament. Plaza gets at that to a certain degree, her delivery around her new friends always forced and stilted, never quite able to replicate Taylor’s effortless zeal. But the script never lets us forget how deranged Ingrid is, and so even as an outsider among shallow social climbers, she is never sympathetic.
But then, nobody in this story is, except perhaps Dan, Ingrid’s landlord, played by the film-stealing O’Shea Jackson Jr. Even as a borderline-pathetic aspiring screenwriter with an unhealthy Batman obsession, Jackson manages to be the audience surrogate, simply by his ability to define coolness on his own terms. When he and Ingrid strike up a romantic relationship (out of necessity, but also out of all-consuming loneliness), it’s hard to get what he sees in her — the film wants us to think he’s a sex-starved nerd, but he’s so much more appealing than anyone in this movie that we never quite buy it.
Russell also has some pathos as the woefully untalented Ezra, whose artworks (“SQUAD GOALS” emblazoned over a Kinkade-esque landscape) are among the film’s best conceptual jokes. It feels telling, then, that in this film, ostensibly about female bonding in the social-media age, the male characters feel the most dimensional. Even Taylor’s Bret Easton Ellis villain of a brother Nicky feels more perceptive and crackling when he enters the scene and makes it his mission to unmask Ingrid’s stalkerish dark side. (Nicky is the obvious Philip Seymour Hoffman to Ingrid’s Matt Damon.)
In the end, Ingrid Goes West feels like it started with something really pointed to say about what it means to be a young woman trying to find her identity in a monetized grid of idealism and positivity — something more nuanced than a doomsaying Black Mirror episode and more informed by characters than technology. It gets halfway there, but hates all of its characters too much to bend them into unexpected positions. Still, I can’t say it’s unrealistic, having certainly gone out for a cold-pressed juice with an Ingrid or two in my day. And as a searing torch to everything that still gets to call itself “artisanal” or “bohemian,” it gets the job done: By its conclusion, which is at once predictable and tone-deaf, the film’s entire milieu feels like a husk. This isn’t a movie about millennials or hipsters or influencers or anything so chic: It’s a movie about good old-fashioned yuppies.