To live and die on social media

Matt Spicer on satirizing L.A. in his film Ingrid Goes West.

Elizabeth Olsen and Aubrey Plaza in Ingrid Goes West

Ingrid Goes West is a movie of its time. In it, Aubrey Plaza plays Ingrid Thorburn, a troubled young woman from a flyover state whose ultimate fulfillment comes from social media. With her mother recently deceased and her “best friend” (an almost complete stranger whom she stalks on Instagram) committing the ultimate offence by not inviting her to her wedding, Ingrid finds herself committed to an institution. Upon her release, she takes the entirety of her inheritance to move to Los Angeles and strike up a friendship with her newest obsession, Instagram star and “influencer” Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen).

Ingrid manages to fake her way into a friendship with Taylor simply by picking up on the stuff she likes (the stuff she thinks is “just the best,” in her parlance) and building a perfect BFF personality. For Ingrid, the friendship is a life preserver – but for Taylor, it’s yet another disposable way to grow her brand, a life goal that’s also driving a wedge between her and her husband (Wyatt Russell), who quit his job at her insistence to become an artist (a painter who stencils hashtags over corny thrift-store paintings).

Director and co-writer Matt Spicer finds himself in the peculiar position of having to make a film skewering a culture that is not only widespread throughout the world, but also woven into the very fabric of life in Los Angeles.

“I’ve lived in Los Angeles for almost 15 years now,” says Spicer. “Living there, I think you do encounter a lot of this stuff. Dave and I, when we were writing this script, it was the specificity of it that made us laugh and made it relatable. Making fun of L.A. is kind of like making fun of your family: you still love them, but you can’t help make fun of each other. I definitely make fun of myself as much as I make fun of other people – I eat avocado toast, y’know? Dave and I are definitely making fun of ourselves as well.”

This idea also extends to the film’s stars. As young, popular actresses, they themselves have an inevitable relationship with social media and fandom that’s difficult to ignore. (Interestingly, three of the film’s stars grew up in show-business families – that also includes Ice Cube’s son O’Shea Jackson Jr., who plays Ingrid’s Batman-loving landlord and love interest.)

“Lizzie grew up in L.A., so I think she has a perspective on all that stuff that I share with her and that we would talk about when we first met,” says Spicer. “And Aubrey… you know, both of them being in the public eye, they both have a complicated relationship with social media. (…) I’m sure that that factored into it as well. I guess for the most part, what really drew them to it was the part, but hearing them talk I think that the stuff that the film was exploring was stuff that was on their minds as well.”

Ingrid Goes West gets pretty dark at times; Spicer is unafraid to show some fucked up stuff both psychologically and physically in a way that isn’t seen too often in films that are ostensibly comedies. Actions have consequences in Ingrid Goes West.

“Part of that is just my taste, you know, the kinds of movies that I like to watch,” says Spicer. “I like the Coen Brothers – movies where there’s people getting murdered but there’s still jokes, you know? They manage to do it in a way where… take the woodchipper scene from Fargo. It’s shocking and it’s funny in a way that really works. So, yes, part of it is just my personal taste, but another part of it is wanting to show the dark side of social media and what someone could possibly be driven to do if they didn’t have the boundaries that the rest of us have. That was part of it too – not wanting to shy away from that.”

Ingrid Goes West finds itself in a similar position to a film like Jason Reitman’s Young Adult, a character study about a person who is incredibly difficult to like. That’s by design, according to Spicer.

“I always think the word likeable is kind of overrated,” says Spicer. “Likeable characters are kind of boring! I think it’s more interesting to watch someone who isn’t! Young Adult is a great example because we all kinda know someone like that. I’m really interested in stripping away the layers and figuring out what makes them tick – what makes someone act like that. And to see that, really, deep down, we’re all humans and we all have flaws and foibles and things that are driving us. I think it’s good to watch stuff like that. I like being reminded of that humanity.” ■

Ingrid Goes West opens in theatres on Friday, Aug. 18. 

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