Pete Townsend, from Tommy (1969)
Review by Ken Burke
Ingrid Goes West (Matt Spicer)
“Executive Summary” (no spoilers): Ingrid, obsessed with her presence (or lack thereof) on social media becomes celebrity-infatuated with the latest Web sensation, Taylor, a woman seemingly like herself (Because they’re both young? Attractive? Stupid?). Funded by a small inheritance from her mother, she foolishly zips off to LA in hopes of entering this "star"’s inner circle, which she does by dubious means. Once they’ve seemingly become actual friends—not just cyberlinked “friends”—Ingrid feels her life now has meaning until Taylor starts sharing her attentions with yet-another Internet personality as well as her obnoxious brother, initiating a series of crises for Ingrid that continue to compound. This is a witty satire of social media addicts, laced with some serious implications about what it takes to become famous in such an oddly-demanding-environment; it’s not yet playing in too many theaters but seems to be expanding so I recommend it for either seeking out now if you can or later in some video incarnation (but not on your cell phone).
Here’s the trailer: (Use the full screen button in the image’s lower right to enlarge it; activate that same button on the full screen’s lower right or your “esc” keyboard key to return to normal size.)
If you can abide plot spoilers read on, but as this blog’s intended for those who’ve seen the film—or want to save some bucks—to help any of you who’d like to learn more details yet avoid important plot-reveals I’ll identify such give-away sentences/sentence-clusters like this: ⇒The first and last words will be noted with arrows and red.⇐ OK, continue on if you like.
What Happens: Ingrid Thorburn (Aubrey Plaza) is such an unaccomplished, occupationally-neutral (even mentally-ill) young woman that her entire identity is wrapped up in somehow being an Internet sensation, so much so than when acquaintance Charlotte (Meredith Hagner)—not even an actual friend, just someone who once commented on an Ingrid post, then became cyber-stalked by her—doesn’t invite Ingrid to her lavish wedding the lonely, selfish, offended-Instagramer shows up anyway to ruin the occasion by spraying the bride with Mace. This leads to a stay in a mental hospital for Ingrid, during which time her only real friend, her mother, dies, leaving her directionless-daughter about $60,000 which Ingrid, instead of investing it somehow in a reasonable future plan (we never sense she has any marketable skills that could likely lead to a stable career), uses to move cross-country to Venice, CA (a famous LA beach town) where she hopes to somehow connect with rising Internet sensation Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen), whom she’s read about in a pop-culture-magazine as a trendy-attraction (whose “fame” is largely based on hawking supplied products in Instagram posts, so she becomes well-known only as a photogenic, congenial person who attracts a lot of followers, including Ingrid; the structure of any of these Web sites allows messages and responses which Ingrid assumes are much more personal than Taylor ever intended so she’d determined to somehow connect up with Taylor, to share in that cyber-celebrity-status).
With her ready cash Ingrid’s able to easily rent an apartment (managed by Dan Pinto [O’Shea Jackson Jr.], aspiring scriptwriter/obsessed Batman enthusiast), frequent Taylor’s favorite eateries, mimic (“tailor”?) her "media crush"’s hairstyle/clothing in anticipation of somehow meeting this rising star which does happen when they encounter each other in a shop only Ingrid doesn’t know how to advance the opportunity so she merely (secretly) follows Taylor home to see where she lives, later breaks in to steal her dog, Rothko, then returns the pet supposedly in response to the “lost dog” fliers posted around the neighborhood. Refusing any reward, Ingrid ingratiates herself with Taylor and husband Ezra O’Keefe (Wyatt Russell)—an artist, of sorts, whose style is to silkscreen words onto other people’s paintings or photos (“found art,” he says of those backgrounds)—leading to Ingrid fast becoming their friend. Next, she borrows Dan’s pickup truck to help transport Taylor to her Joshua Tree home in the desert with a promise to have it back by the same night because he’s having an important script reading. Instead, Ingrid and Taylor find cocaine in his glove compartment, party into the wee hours at a local bar bonding over various superficialities, then Ingrid causes some stupid, notable damage to the truck on the drive back, telling Dan the next morning she’ll pay for the damage. That leads to a date where Dan tells her he’s an orphan who’s attracted to the Batman story of Bruce Wayne, another orphan who became a superhero through inner toughness and determination rather than extraordinary human abilities; this all leads to sex, followed by their genuine mutual attraction which continues throughout this increasingly-crazy-plot.
⇒Ingrid’s most vital attraction’s still toward Taylor, though, which becomes strained when drug-addict-brother Nicky (Billy Magnussen) shows up to live with her and Ezra for awhile, followed by the further distraction of Taylor getting close with fashion-blogger Harley Chung (Pom Klementieff). Soon, Ingrid’s distraught rather than merely distracted when Nicky (who keeps calling her “Olga”) finds her misplaced cell phone, revealing all sorts of evidence of Ingrid’s obsession with Taylor (including photos of her bathroom belongings from the first night Ingrid came to the house) which he threatens to reveal to his sympathetic sister unless Ingrid starts paying him $5,000 a month (he seems to have no marketable skills either, except looking like he should be on some beefcake calendar). In an attempt to scare him off, Ingrid pays a guy $200 to hit her, tells Dan it was Nicky, enlists his help in kidnapping Nicky to make intimidating threats, but Nicky fights back more than expected, Dan's injured, Ingrid beans Nicky with a crowbar, then whisks Dan off to a hospital. By the time Ingrid sees Taylor and Ezra again Nicky’s told them everything so Ingrid’s bluntly shut out of their lives; however, not to be denied her desired media status, Ingrid spends her last $50,000 to buy the Joshua Tree house next to Taylor’s, keeps leaving unanswered messages (Ezra finally growls a verbal “cease and desist” demand), then slips into the couple’s Halloween party (partly sneaking a charge for her "sacred" phone as her electricity’s cut off for non-payment of her bill).⇐
⇒She’s thrown out again (with Taylor upset over Ingrid’s stalking, ignoring her own shallowness as Ingrid was more of a convenient acquisition for her [especially in buying an Ezra painting, the only one he’d ever sold] than a true friend), so Ingrid goes home, uses her recharged phone to post a video of herself admitting to the “Instafans” she’s acquired through her shared photos with Taylor that she’s just a lying, lonely failure about to kill herself with a pill overdose. Dan sees her video, calls 911 to get her to a hospital to save her life (but even when she comes to, the first thing she says is “Where’s my phone?”), then finally brings her joy by showing how her posted suicide “note” went viral so she’s now got thousands of followers of her own, all sympathetic to her situation, as we end with her smiling face in the recovery room as #iamingrid is now the toast of Instagram.⇐
So What? In my previous posting (August 23, 2017) I wondered if my personal satisfaction with the humorous depiction of blatant Southern stereotypes (although the West Virginia locale also borders on the Midwest) would play as successfully with the rural folks being depicted in the hilarious heist movie, Logan Lucky (Steven Soderberg). This week I have to wonder the same thing about Millennial viewers of Ingrid Goes West, whether they’ll see find the primary female characters’ investment in Internet fame to be funny or take offense at how Taylor becomes a budding celebrity simply by constantly being seen on smartphone screens while Ingrid’s clearly a pathetic person with no grander ambition than to “lead” an enormous number of obsessed-cyber-followers. As an older guy (pushing 70, NOT the new upper-limit of “middle-aged” unless medical science can somehow successfully extend me past 100 along with political/environmental science somehow successfully changing the horrid direction our planet’s currently headed in, a fundamental need if there’s even to be a inhabitable planet for any of us as the next decades advance), I found plenty of humor in the plot lines of Ingrid … (as well as pity for this poor woman whose entire existence seems tied to being in Taylor’s inner circle) with its snarky jabs at the all-encompassing-fascinations with social media currently turning industrial cultures into an endless avalanche of self-promotion and opinion-sharing. (Which I admit I’m also a part of, in that without Web sites to allow such existences as Film Reviews from Two Guys in the Dark [#BestreviewsEVER—no, not a real thing!] to emerge—and attract interest from 40,000+ readers in recent weeks [not this one, though; see the very end of this posting]—my clusters of idiosyncratic comments would never find a home in traditional journalistic structures; I also got a laugh out of Ezra’s supposed-technophobia because he uses only a simple flip-phone, as I do, leaving the intricacies of those smartphones to my more inquisitive wife, Nina.) However, whether a wide audience of 20-to-30-somethings will choose to laugh this much at themselves remains to be seen as this film’s now expanding to a much greater number of theaters.
⇒It’s also not clear how much we should be laughing about the cyber-sensation Ingrid becomes when she attempts suicide; sure, this a satirical take on how possessed so very many of us become with the attention paid to us (or not) on sites such as Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and God knows what else (that I pay no attention to/am oblivious about, despite millions of users constantly checking to see who’s responded to their latest postings about their opinions on this and that or where they’re currently eating avocado toast), but when we’re already living in a culture where cyber-bullying leads real people—usually those ostracized by their self-important-peers—to commit suicide it’s sad her attempt at death is what will finally bring some sense of accomplishment to rudderless Ingrid. Even worse, will all of these open-hearted-followers continue to support her massive emotional needs when she’s back to more mundane activities or will she have to continue to live on the edge of mental despair to keep these “customers” satisfied?⇐ Yes, I know this is just a film, intended to call attention to the extremes that over-reliance on social media have caused in our increasingly-connected-yet-actually-isolated world (an ironic twist on Canadian English literature professor/social theorist Marshall McLuhan's 1960’s prediction of a shift from top-down-dominated-print-based-cultures to an electronic form of a "global village"), but satire has a serious underbelly that mere parody does not, in this case the concept that a life may only have meaning when it ceases to exist, that it may take something that drastic for anyone involved in such a situation—including Ingrid—to even realize what’s missing in a world where everything that matters is found only in strings of photos and endless short verbalizations flowing along on our tiny screens.
Bottom Line Final Comments: I continue to find myself not very fascinated with many of the current cinema choices in my area (or don’t want to travel too far in hopes something might be as interesting as it sounds) so I was almost ready to go with The Hitman’s Bodyguard (Patrick Hughes), despite its low critical response (Rotten Tomatoes 39% positive reviews, a surprisingly-higher 47% average from the Metacritic snobs) because it’s playing locally and I’d think something useful could come from the combination of Ryan Reynolds (I even liked Green Lantern [Martin Campbell, 2011]), Samuel Jackson, Selma Hayek, and the great Gary Oldman, but then my always-alert-wife heard local San Francisco radio talk-show-host Ronn Owens (on KGO-AM, 10am-noon PDT M-F if you want to sample him [scroll to the bottom of their page for the On Air button]) praising Ingrid ... so our usual Friday viewing troupe agreed to return to the fabulous Grand Lake Theatre, an Oakland show palace since the early glory days of Hollywood (1926) that none of us had been to in awhile (although when driving to our frequent-locations in Berkeley we pass the large marquee where tenant Allen Michaan's [Renaissance Rialto, Inc.] leftist political messages add controversial flavor to the film titles) to see what this social-media-farce was all about (with additional encouragement from RT’s 88% positive reviews, MC’s expected-lower-score of 71%).
I commend Michaan for taking a chance with Ingrid …, although if the weekend evening shows (pre-screening accompaniment with Mighty Wurlitzer organ recitals) don’t draw in more than those who attended our viewing (about 25 patrons in the main auditorium, a space probably with 700 seats) I doubt the rental fees will even match the popcorn sales—we bought some, just to help out. Ingrid … didn’t do much better on the other domestic (U.S.-Canada) screens last weekend either, making only about $783,000 in 647 venues (for a roughly $1.3 million take over 3 weeks in release), compared to The Hitman’s … $10.3 million in 3,377 theaters (a $39.8 million gross after 2 weeks), but overall it was a down weekend for movie attendance, reported as the worst in the last 16 years.
As always with Two Guys, there’s no payola for promoting the Grand Lake Theatre—or anything else mentioned—just the satisfaction of encouraging moviegoers to attend this cinematic palace.
If you follow my lead in setting out to see Ingrid Goes West I encourage you to arrive early enough to settle in by feature-start-time so you can enjoy the addition of a strange, simple, short animation from Neon (the distributor) about an ambiguous nude figure whose ultimate message is simply, “I love you.” Then, after submerging yourself in this filmic study of social-media-addiction and its destructive psychological impacts you might want to enhance your thoughts about Ingrid, Taylor, and their constructed worlds with some indulgence in my Musical Metaphors for this funny-yet-disturbing-narrative. You might know by now how I end my reviews with the use of somehow-related-songs in order to provide one last avenue of commentary via lyrics and instrumentation, allowing some meditation on what’s occurred in the cinematic material under analysis from the juxtaposition of appropriate tunes (at least to me, although I admit some of my choices are far-fetched), which in this case will lead us a bit into meta-Metaphorical-land because—with only the 1 review this week I’m trying to be generous where I can—the songs I’ve chosen to speak to a cynical presentation about the ubiquitous web of social media that envelops us are cynical statements about the popular music business itself, so it’s a case of using commentaries to make commentary.
I’ll start with John Sebastian’s “Nashville Cats” (on the 1966 album Hums of the Lovin’ Spoonful) at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ulVQsQBenvs* which pokes subtle fun at the abundance of industry-protected-session-musicians in the C&W capital of Nashville, TN: “Nashville cats, been playin’ since they’s babies Nashville cats, get work before they’re two […] Well, there’s sixteen thousand eight hundred ‘n’ twenty-one Mothers from Nashville All their friends play music, and they ain’t uptight If one of the kids will Because it’s custom made for any mother’s son To be a guitar picker in Nashville And I sure am glad I got a chance to say a word about The music and the mothers from Nashville.” Sebastian gets in a clever allusion to “motherf***er” at the end here, seemingly showing a snide attitude toward this abundance of homegrown, insular guitarists without having to use an utterance which George Carlin would later make famous in his monologue about the "Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television" (or radio)** on his 1972 Class Clown album.
*A poor-quality-video from a live 1966 performance enhanced with the sounds of the record’s well-recorded-audio; this link also has lots of info about this Sebastian-led-band if you’re interested.
**You might also like a later live skit which you can hear (and watch) here with Carlin commenting on the original “Seven Words” routine (adding a few new extras but still ending on a pun about “prick”), although be warned that all these "dirty" words still carry an impact to easily-offended-ears despite now being easily found in many aspects of both our daily speech and our popular culture.
Next, I’ll turn to The Byrds with their swipe at the pop music industry, “So You Want To Be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star” (from their 1967 Younger Than Yesterday album) at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qMaJWESoZlk (a 1967 live performance with an era-appropriate-dose of psychedelic imagery mixed in) containing the sarcastic advice to “Just get an electric guitar Then take some time [but not much] And learn how to play And with your hair swung right, And your pants too tight It’s gonna be all right […] Sell your soul to the company Who are waiting there to sell plastic ware And in a week or two If you make the charts The girls’ll tear you apart.” But, if you’d prefer to be more musically-generic about how social adulation is heaped upon those who rise—or scheme—their way into attenuated-public-consciousness as a commentary on the caustic messages of Ingrid Goes West, then I’ll return us to my post-opening-quote from The Who’s “See, Feel Me” (originally on their 1969 rock opera album, Tommy, although there’s not a separate listening but instead you’d find it to be part of the finale song [on disc 2, track 6], “We’re Not Gonna Take It”) at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m7AHblQ3_oM (a live performance from the famous 1969 Woodstock Festival as presented in the Woodstock documentary [Michael Wadleigh, 1970; review in our October 22, 2015 posting] in its original multi-image format [although the visuals are a bit dark so I’d recommend watching it in full-screen YouTube mode—but if you’d prefer a bit brighter video option, although re-edited into a standard single-image format—you can go here; you might prefer this one in YouTube full-screen also]) where the social adulation gets raised to religious heights: “Listening to you, I get the music Gazing at you, I get the heat Following you, I climb the mountain I get excitement at your feet Right behind you, I see the millions On you, I see the glory From you, I get opinions From you, I get the story.” Ingrid debased herself by allowing this kind of blind devotion toward Taylor's persona with Spicer warning us not to do the same in our own lives.
In parting, I offer my condolences (and contributions to various relief agencies) to all of those in my former home state of Texas who’ve faced the recent invasion of Hurricane Harvey, bringing a full spectrum of inconvenience to displacement to destruction to death across a large swath of the Lone Star state. Although I moved away from there in 1984 I still have friends and former classmates in the Dallas, Austin, and Houston-Galveston areas who’ve been directly impacted by these massive winds, rains, and flood waters—although I’m not (yet) aware of anyone I personally know facing direct physical or economic harm—so I’ll just pass on my sincere hopes for the deluge to end, the new inland lakes to recede, the cleanup and reconstruction to move forward even as full recovery’s now being predicted to range from months to years. For those fortunate enough to ride out the storms, with rebuilding their ongoing project, you have my admiration and support because I lived through several hurricanes that battered Galveston from the late 1950s to the mid-‘60s so I do have some idea of what you’re enduring now, although nothing in terms of flooding has ever been this bad in the full history of the U.S. (Yet, the unnamed 1900 hurricane, also a Category 4 storm, that devastated my old home town of Galveston [before the 10-mile-long, 17-foot-high seawall was built] remains the deadliest natural disaster, killing between 6,000 and 12,000 people.)
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Here’s more information about Ingrid Goes West:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NEwRC5tzjNE (31:12 interview with writer-director Matt Spicer and actors Aubrey Plaza, Elizabeth Olsen)
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