The movies don’t quite know what to do with Aubrey Plaza. That’s a shame, since the former star of “Parks and Recreation” is bearer of one of our finest deadpan expressions, and an ability to wield sarcasm like a deadly weapon.
“Ingrid Goes West” is just the latest example, an occasionally clever but mostly sour social media-stalker comedy.
For Plaza, the role is an admirable change of pace. She’s played the introvert before, in films like “Safety Not Guaranteed” (easily her best big-screen role). But too often she’s the highpoint of execrable fare like “Dirty Grandpa.”
As the title character in director Matt Spicer’s “Ingrid Goes West,” Plaza is the epitome of unhinged loneliness. Her Ingrid Thorburn has lost her mother, her best friend, and, seemingly, much of a reason for being.
Her main connection to the outside world is Instagram. As Spicer cleverly shows in the film’s opening stretch, Ingrid’s obsession is the land of carefully staged selfies, prayer hands emojis, and the type of wanton product placement that makes social media influencers so successful.
One of these influencers is Taylor Sloane (a perfectly cast Elizabeth Olsen of "Wild River"), an ever-optimistic, carefully curated icon of Instagram with 267,000 followers. For the floundering Ingrid, Taylor represents everything she is not.
Taylor is the type of individual who seems to mean it when she tells a new friend, “You’re my favorite person I’ve ever met! Oh my god!” And while brands pay her for mentions, Taylor somehow makes it feel organic.
Using the money left by her recently deceased mother, Ingrid decamps to sunny Los Angeles. Her quest is to capture the angelic glow that seems to follow Taylor everywhere she goes — or, is photographed, at least — and perhaps befriend her in the process.
Soon she is renting a flat from Batman-obsessed wannabe screenwriter Dan. He is played by the wonderfully natural, ultra-talented O’Shea Jackson Jr., who memorable portrayed his father, Ice Cube, in the brilliant “Straight Outta Compton.”
And just a short time later, Ingrid has found the mighty Taylor and insinuated herself in her life. Yes, she stole her dog to do so, but still.
It’s clear that Taylor oozes charisma. But the more entranced Ingrid becomes, the messier things seems. Taylor’s relationship with her artist husband, Ezra (Wyatt Russell), feels as fake as many of her social media posts. And her ever-present brother (Billy Magnussen) is the ultimate obnoxious “bro.”
And as things get messier, and the film gets darker, it becomes less and less effective. The most memorable moments are those between Ingrid and Dan. The budding couple are delightful together; the film’s funniest sequence is a Catwoman and Bruce Wayne role-playing scenario played to the hilt by Plaza and Jackson.
But “Ingrid Goes West” has nothing especially new to say about social media, really. Yes, it’s a world of fakery, but who would believe otherwise? There is no “King of Comedy”-level insight here.
The reason to see “Ingrid Goes West,” then, is for the performances. And Aubrey Plaza, of course, is at the top of that list. Her perfect cinematic role is yet to come; fingers crossed that a sharp writer-director, or the star herself, will conjure up a role worthy of her inimitable talents.
In the meantime, however, we can admire Plaza's performance — and the work of Jackson and Olsen — and ponder this trio's glittering future. They are as #promising as any young actors in film.
“Ingrid Goes West”
2 ½ stars (out of 4)