Ingrid Goes West: A movie for our social media era

Aubrey Plaza and Elizabeth Olsen. (Getty Images)
Aubrey Plaza and Elizabeth Olsen. (Getty Images)

New York - Like avocado on toast, Instagram and millennials are inseparable. Selfies, images of food and sunsets amass social socialites millions of followers. Take @thefatjewish, @kayla_itsines or @realgrumpycat for instance – their social media profiles have turned into full-time professional occupations. Job title: Social media influencer. 

Much has been written about the effects of social media, including the impact on real-life relationships and the selling of a fake reality. The movie Ingrid Goes West, slated to screen later this year in South Africa, is an apt, timely, dark and shrewdly funny comedy-drama with a wacky plot that takes Instagram fame to the extreme.

The film stars Elizabeth Olsen (The Avengers: Age of Ultron, Captain America: Civil War) as Taylor, a social media queen, and also the object of Ingrid’s (Parks and Recreation’s and Dirty Grandpa’s Aubrey Plaza) adoring, and very unhealthy, obsession.

Ingrid, fresh from a breakdown and with a little bit of insurance money after her mother’s death, heads to Los Angeles with a new moniker, @ingridgoeswest. She goes west in search of likes, mistaking these for “real” connections. She starts following Taylor, whose snaps and style have created a lucrative product-placement business venture, on Instagram, but Ingrid doesn’t just like her posts. It morphs into real-life stalking, all in the hopes of becoming part of Taylor’s non-Instagram life. 

It’s kind of like the Instagram version of The Talented Mr. Ripley, joke Plaza and Olsen after a screening of the movie in New York. But funny, director Matt Spicer adds.

In a real-life plot-twist, Olsen didn’t have an Instagram profile, only creating one at Spicer’s behest. Olsen (@elizabetholsenofficial) comes across as very nostalgic about life before social media, and vehemently insists that “social media is the bane of our existence.” She desperately hopes “what’s cool goes back to being private and mysterious. I would love if that were the case. I don’t know if that would happen, but I think eventually we’ll all understand it’s [social media] a novelty, and maybe there will be some collective consciousness about it, but that’s my deepest hope.” She laughingly recalls how even AOL Chat used to overwhelm her. “I don’t know what I would feel like if I were raised with any of this.”

It might seem odd then that she decided to sign up for Ingrid Goes West, but after watching the movie her answer illuminates what most of us know, and would also very much like to ignore. The story, she says, is about people that just want to be seen. For her role, Plaza (@plazadeaubrey) followed people she felt Ingrid would be obsessed with and allowed herself to indulge in beautiful limbs, bodies and lifestyles. She didn’t like anything about it. “The comedy part of Instagram I love, but in general it makes me feel like my life sucks and everyone else is having a great time and I’m not.” 


All three balk at the description of the movie as an “Instagram movie.” Instagram is essentially used to drive the plot and as a premise to provide social commentary on society at large. “For me, the movie was never an Instagram movie and I was always so conscious of trying to veer away from making a movie that is solely a commentary or a clever wink-wink to the audience,” says Plaza. “That’s not what makes me love movies. I love movies because I love the characters and I connect to the human story and the emotion. The idea that someone wants someone to like them so much and is so lonely – I related to that.” 

Instagram’s role was to explore what can happen when someone like Ingrid can wallow in their most dangerous or toxic impulses, she explains.

“That can get pretty dark.” And so it was Ingrid’s human journey that really resonated with her and that she wants to stick with the audience as they leave the theatre – and before they turn their cell phones back on. “It’s too early to really say what the real effects (of social media) are, she adds. “Right now we are in the thick of it, so it’s hard to know exactly what the effect to be. We’re like guinea pigs or something.” 

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