Double-Tap on This Picture-Perfect Movie

23 Aug

If you’ve spent any amount of time on Instagram lately, you’ve come across some of those people commonly known as “influencers.” You know who they are: They’re the good looking ones who always seem to be posing for photos in which they show off their awesome clothes, the awesome location they’re in, the awesome food they’re eating, their awesome spouse or partner, or some other aspect of their awesome life. They are truly #blessed.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to say that the lifestyle they’re promoting can’t possibly be real. And often, it isn’t — as some are quick to tell you in a post where they still look fabulous.

That false modesty, that so-called “authenticity,” is what has helped many of those folks to attract thousands and thousands of fans who hang on their every photo, waiting to see what they’ll be wearing and where they’ll be going next. And who totally buy into the wish fulfillment fantasy, thinking they know these people intimately and that they’re actually a friend.

These model wannabes are people who take their ability to influence fans a bit too seriously, and who believe their own hype. Talk about a scenario that’s ripe for parody.

If you agree, then you’re going to love the new movie Ingrid Goes West, Matt Spicer’s pitch-black and very funny comedy about the dangers of getting too attached to minor online celebrities (a hit at Sundance earlier this year). Of course, when real life offers such events as Fyre Festival, it may seem like a too-easy target to make a movie about the dangers of the Instagram influencer lifestyle. But Ingrid nails it in spite of that.

Aubrey Plaza stars as Ingrid, an unhinged woman with an unhealthy addiction to Instagram. Her entire self-worth is based on the faux connections she makes online.

Ingrid’s latest obsession is Taylor (Elizabeth Olsen, from Martha Marcy Mae Marlene), who lives a seemingly perfect, impossibly photogenic, bohemian Southern California life, and documents it all. Ingrid comments on one post (about avocado toast, natch), and when Taylor replies, Ingrid takes it as a sign, deciding to travel all the way to Los Angeles to meet Taylor. “I’m not a psychopath. I just want to be her friend,” Ingrid says, as she begins to stalk Taylor, shopping in the same stores and adopting a similar look.

Soon, Ingrid has insinuated herself into Taylor’s life and the two become BFFs, bonding over a “shared” love of designer purses and the K-Ci and Jo Jo song “All My Life,” before consummating the relationship by, yes, posing together in one of Taylor’s perfect Insta posts. And then … well, if you’ve seen Single White Female or The Talented Mr. Ripley, you know things take a dark turn.

Spicer cleverly shows how, naturally, all is not what it seems in Taylor’s world, and with the sharp script he co-wrote (with David Branson Smith), skewers both the idea of living so much of your life online and the idea of putting forth a carefully curated identity of “authenticity.”

Taylor is someone who scores major cool points when she quotes from her favorite book, Norman Mailer’s The Deer Park — even though she’s never actually read it. And she herself admits that while she calls herself a “photographer,” she often trades on her art in order to take money from brands. Meanwhile, her perfect husband, Ezra (Wyatt Russell, from Everybody Wants Some!!), is an “artist” who takes other people’s paintings and writes dumb buzzwords (like “Squad Goals”) on them. Cool?

Olsen excellently portrays Ingrid’s superficial ideal. But Spicer saves an equal amount of satire for Ingrid, and all the Insta-fans who love these “influencers.”

Plaza, her trademark twisted intensity in full effect, is perfect, portraying how loneliness and desperation drives so many unstable people to consider surface online relationships real. Just watch Plaza’s eyes as Ingrid scrolls through Insta posts, liking each one, or waiting to see how many likes her own will get. This performance goes way beyond the cynical, deadpan performance Plaza gave for seven seasons on Parks and Recreation. Ingrid is straight-up cray, and Plaza’s performance is so dead-on, you may feel guilty about laughing at her — if you don’t feel a certain kinship regarding how validated Ingrid feels about her social status.

Halfway through the movie, we’re introduced to Taylor’s obnoxious, jet-setting brother, Nicky (Billy Magnussen). Despite his party-boy attitude, Nicky is not part of the whole Instalife, and he, like Freddie Miles in Ripley, sees right through the poseur’s façade. While Nicky is pretty much the polar opposite of Dan (O’Shea Jackson Jr., from Straight Outta Compton), Ingrid’s Batman-obsessed landlord, it’s these two who provide the right amount of balance and a strong reality check on the online adoration.

The film gets a little crazy as Ingrid becomes desperate to hold on to her adopted lifestyle. But it never quite goes off the rails, instead showing effectively how the image you see publicly isn’t always the reality you expect.

By the end of Spicer’s film (a confident feature debut), you may not like either Taylor or Ingrid. But the director’s real success will be if you take a look at how influenced you are by those supposedly perfect people you see on Instagram and give their photos one less like.

I’m giving Ingrid Goes West a B+.

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