Few things are more gratifying than a solid skewering of millennial culture when handled deftly, and few movies have accomplished this so successfully as Ingrid Goes West. Rest assured, you’ll never look at Instagram shots of avocado toast the same way again — if you ever looked at them in the first place. It plays like Single White Female aimed at people who are too young to remember that was a thing, and while the film openly acknowledges its own antecedents, it still manages to be something unique unto itself. Equal parts absurd and disturbing, Ingrid is the black comedy the social media generation deserves.
Our flawed protagonist is Ingrid Thorburn, a mentally unstable 20-something with difficulties differentiating between Facebook friends and the real deal. After an episode of cyberstalking earns her a restraining order and a brief stint in the looney bin, Ingrid cashes in her inheritance and heads to LA to pursue her latest target, a social media “influencer” as vapid as Ingrid is deranged. And despite all logic to the contrary, this plan seems to go swimmingly — at least for a while.
This deceptively simple setup provides an unexpected stage for a surprisingly deep examination of mental illness and the deleterious impact illusory internet relationships can impart to those with a tenuous grasp on reality. It doesn’t hurt that Ingrid also manages to be funny as hell. Sharing their debut feature, writer/director Matt Spicer and screenwriter David Branson Smith have created an affecting antihero while still managing to work some legitimate jokes into the mix — emojis are never quite as ludicrous as when read in pseudoserious voice-over narration, and watching our protagonist literally wipe her ass with pages of Joan Didion had my internal college freshman utterly euphoric.
Even a script this solid couldn’t work without a cast that can back it up, and the ensemble assembled for Ingrid is stellar. Elizabeth Olsen is superlative as the vacuous trust fund socialite who becomes the object of Ingrid’s unsolicited affections, and Billy Magnussen is suitably slimy as her dude-brah cokehead brother (playing better than in this week’s Birth of the Dragon because you’re supposed to hate him here). O’Shea Jackson Jr. is fantastic as Ingrid’s landlord/love interest, a struggling screenwriter with an unhealthy fixation on Batman — not the comics or any of the good movie adaptations, mind you, but the Joel Schumacher Bat-nipple version. But this is Ingrid’s world, and Aubrey Plaza is nothing short of phenomenal in the title role. It’s a part so perfectly suited to her unique blend of sardonic psychosis that it’s nearly impossible to imagine anyone else handling such a delicate balance of pathos and pitch-black comedy.
Make no mistake, Ingrid is a dark film — especially in consideration of its spot-on ending. Its unremittingly bleak view of modern youth may be off-putting to many, and in many ways, Spicer and Smith are taking up the mantle of Todd Solondz or Mike White in crafting cringe comedy with a deeply twisted sensibility that is thoroughly engaging in spite of its subject matter. It’s not for everyone, but I can’t remember the last film I recommended so frequently in the days after viewing. Rated R for language throughout, drug use, some sexual content and disturbing behavior. Now Playing at Carolina Cinemark, Grail Moviehouse.