Aubrey Plaza seems to have one mode and one mode only: surly. It’s her lovable April Ludgate, the character she popularized on TV’s Parks and Recreation. Surly works for Plaza—and I like how she plays it—but it limits her range and she winds up playing these types a lot. That said, surly mostly works—and I like how it mostly works—in Ingrid Goes West, the new dark comedy from writer Matt Spicer (Flower) who, like everyone else these days, is trying his hand at directing.
Ingrid Thorburn (Plaza) is a pathetic loner whose idea of friendship is following someone on Instagram. Connected 24/7 to social media, Ingrid forms unstable, one-sided relationships with people she friends online (one such friendship, for example, results in a wedding reception macing incident after Ingrid fails to get an invite—the seriously screwy sad sack serves a short stint in the psych ward for her sins).
While relaxing in the tub one day, Ingrid reads about the adorbs L.A. lifestyle of photographer and media manipulator Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen, doing the Venice Beach boho-chic thing—”Another day, another avocado toast. Prayer hands emoji”) and decides that Taylor will become her next best friend. And so Ingrid instantly uproots herself from PA to CA, her backpack fit to bursting with the sixty-two grand left her by her dead mother.
Once in SoCal, Ingrid slowly insinuates herself into Taylor’s meticulously manicured way of life… by stealing her scrappy pooch, Rothko, for starters. She eats in the same restaurants as Taylor, gets a makeover in the same salon, sports the same carefree styles and accessories, all so that she can feel cool and successful and, most of all, loved.
Sounds mostly cute and funny, if a little sad, right? Well it is, at least in the beginning, despite the creepy undercurrents. But it turns dark, not surprisingly, and suicidal, and it’s only the quick thinking of Ingrid’s Batman-obsessed landlord Dan Pinto (the extremely personable O’Shea Jackson Jr.) that prevent things from culminating on a maudlin note.
Make no bones about it, Ingrid Goes West is a stalker film in the tradition of Martin Scorsese’s masterful The King of Comedy, although not nearly as polished. Plaza, oozing affability despite her generalized sullenness, is no Robert De Niro, and Ingrid Thorburn’s a shallow take on Rupert Pupkin. But the films share many similarities: the unhinged, obsessive protagonist; the drive for fame and fortune; the funny moments and the uncomfortable moments and the scary, pathological moments.
Spicer makes good use of Plaza’s one-note appeal but his script is ultimately without the sophistication—and his direction lacking the necessary maturity—to make Ingrid Goes West truly memorable.
(c) 2017 David N. Butterworth