Over the past few decades the portrayal of those suffering from a mental health disorder has varied widely. You occasionally get films like It’s Kind of a Funny Story, which show well-rounded and thoughtful characters.
But more often than not said portrayals tend to be inappropriate. Whether is be in great action films, such as Two-Face in The Dark Knight; or more comedic films, such as Jim Carey’s character in Me, Myself and Irene; their portrayals tend to be filled with stereotypes and negative attributes.
Fortunately over the years our attitudes have changed to a point where people can comfortably (and quite rightly) point out that films need to do better. But because of this 21st century attitude, I don’t remotely envy the filmmakers of Ingrid Goes West. How on earth do you make a comedy in this day and age about a woman who’s a stalker because of her struggles with a mental disability?
Ingrid Thorburn (Aubrey Plaza) is an utter Instagram addict, spending her days scrolling through and liking hundreds of posts from an assortment of individuals. But after the death of her mother she finds herself lost and alone.
Fortunately she comes across the Instagram account of Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen), a popular social media influencer. Inspired by the seemingly amazing life that Taylor leads, Ingrid takes it upon herself to move out west to Los Angeles in order to try and establish a new friendship.
While the use of emojis in almost every aspect of our digital existence is already pretty strange, it’s not until said symbols are verbalised, along with the message they accompany, that you sort of realise how ridiculous the entire thing is. (“The couple that yoga’s together, stays together! Prayer hands emoji!”) This is just one of the many comedic flourishes that writer/director Matt Singer (co-written with David Branson Smith) in their sometimes cynical, but incredibly funny satire.
Easily one of the best screenplays so far this year, Singer and Smith take us on a wild ride through the sunny photogenic world of the Instagram crowd; and yet pull back the curtain to show the lies and darkness said crowd must endure to maintain their vivacious existence.
It’s this vivaciousness that their lead character of Ingrid purses; and a character that is brought brilliantly to life by Audrey Plaza. Without question, she is the highlight of the film. While Plaza has played the role of crazy young lady countless times before, here she has a fine line to tread. On the one hand her actions are calculated and deplorable, taking “invasion of privacy” to a whole new level. And yet, there’s always a sense of empathy and occasional sadness as we witness her struggle to fit into a world that her mental condition will not allow.
Accompanying Plaza are a string of strong performances, from Olson as the hipster Queen of Ingrid’s affections, to the punch-able offensiveness of the insane Nicky (Billy Magnussen); as well as a surprisingly good O’Shea Jackson Jr in his role as a Batman-obsessed screenwriter.
But the film’s coda will undoubtedly split audience opinion. On the one hand there will be some that see it as a brave ending, choosing a path which arguably rewards Ingrid, in spite of her dastardly decisions. But from a story-telling POV it feels like it greatly invalidates the journey Ingrid has traversed. The entire purpose of a character undertaking such a trek is to show change, otherwise what’s the point in taking it in the first place?
But maybe that’s the point that Singer and Smith are trying to make. To show us that a mental health problem is not an issue easily overcome, regardless of the titanic obstacles that Ingrid has already confronted.
In terms of satire and inward reflection, it’s hard not to be reminded of Sidney Lumet’s Network. In the same way that Oscar-winning film was a reflection of the crass downwards trajectory of television, Ingrid Goes West is an astounding rumination of how the trappings of social media should lead us to question ourselves as a species.