In Theaters

We all want to be liked. But how far are we willing to go to achieve that outcome? And what if it gets the better of us, becoming an unhealthy obsession? That’s the stuff of which the incisive new comedy-drama “Ingrid Goes West” is made of (web site, trailer).

Twentysomething Ingrid Thorburn (Aubrey Plaza) has issues. Most notably, she’s obsessed with being liked and popular, a compulsiveness driven by her nearly constant surfing of social media pages, where she ogles over the countless photos of smiling, happy people living cheerful, fun-loving, carefree, perfect lives. And, not to be left out, Ingrid wants some of that for herself. But, in her desire to attain such notoriety, sometimes Ingrid slips over the edge of reasonableness and common sense.

After an unfortunate incident at the wedding reception of one of her supposedly dear social media friends (Meredith Hagner) – an event to which Ingrid is not invited – she’s committed to a mental health facility to work out her problems. Upon her release, she’s allegedly cured, but, before long, she’s back online, hunting new besties to follow. This is especially important to Ingrid now since the one person who had been an important part of her life – her mother – passed away while she was undergoing treatment. It’s a sad and lonely time for the protagonist. But it’s also one where some of the sting of loss vanishes when she learns that her mother had left her an inheritance of $60,000.

While contemplating her future, Ingrid stumbles upon a potential new social media crush, a bubbly, effervescent, eminently photogenic Californian named Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen). Seemingly overnight, Taylor’s ubiquitous photos take over social media. She’s the person everyone is supposed to want to be, even though Taylor herself is one of those Kardashian-esque celebrities who has become famous for having done virtually nothing worthy of note. Yet, inspired by Taylor’s lifestyle, and with a wad of cash in hand, Ingrid decides to go west to meet the enviable Ms. Sloane.

With her latest social media crush in tow, Internet stalker Ingrid Thorburn (Aubrey Plaza, right) poses for one of countless photos with cultural influencer Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen, left) in director Matt Spicer’s debut feature, “Ingrid Goes West.” Photo courtesy of Neon.

Once in California, Ingrid tracks down Taylor and begins hatching a plan to ingratiate herself into the life of the social media icon and her artist husband, Ezra (Wyatt Russell). In doing so, however, Ingrid engages in a series of questionable acts involving her landlord (O’Shea Jackson Jr.), Taylor’s crazy brother (Billy Magnusson) and even the happy couple’s dog. Ingrid gets away with her plans for a while, but, when her tactics – which are tantamount to clandestine stalking – are found out, she’s forced into taking even more drastic measures to cover her tracks. And all for the sake of a little attention.

Indeed, if we want to enjoy a life of happiness, satisfaction and fulfillment, that has to begin with us. It can’t be extracted from an externalized materialization, no matter how seemingly elegant, glamorous or fun-filled it may appear. Until Ingrid comes to realize this, she’ll have to endure considerable discouragement, even at the hands of those who claim to be her friend. And it’s even more disillusioning when she learns that those who lead such supposedly enviable lives are engaged in acts of self-deception just as much as she is. The key question here is, who among them will come to this realization first – or at all?

One of the aims behind the creation of social media was the hope that it would bring people closer together. Ironically, though, it’s often had just the opposite effect. Many users have become disillusioned – even depressed – over what they see, wondering why their lives aren’t as fulfilled and perfect as those whose pictures they see online. This can result in increasing personal isolation or the extreme behavior exhibited by individuals like Ingrid. In either case, though, the dissatisfaction arises from those who brought it about in the first place for failing to recognize where their contentment truly originates.

Ingrid Thorburn (Aubrey Plaza) mimics the habits of her latest social media crush – right down to her choice in reading materials – in the scathingly devastating new comedy-drama, “Ingrid Goes West.” Photo courtesy of Neon.

As a scathingly devastating dressing down of social media culture and our vapid fascination with today’s undeservedly overrated adult iterations of “the popular kids,” “Ingrid Goes West” hits the mark dead-on in a wide array of respects. Aubrey Plaza shows acting chops never seen before, delivering a solid, award-worthy performance in the role of the troubled title character. The protagonist’s portrayal is more than capably backed by a strong cast of supporting players who execute their roles with precision and insightful accuracy. And punctuating it all is a razor-sharp script peppered with big laughs that provide a perfect foil to the film’s darker, more dramatic moments.

Those who easily see through the thin veneer of what’s supposedly laudable these days will handily detect the unfortunate shallowness of many of our collective ways wickedly brought to life in this impressive debut feature from director Matt Spicer. Let’s hope the message sinks in – especially amongst those most in need of getting it.

A complete review is available by clicking here.

On the Radio This Week 

Join host Frankie Picasso and yours truly this Tuesday, September 12, on The Good Radio Network’s broadcast of Mission Unstoppable, when we’ll interview documentary filmmaker Renée Scheltema about her excellent new release, “Normal Is Over” (web site, trailer). This engaging film presents an interesting take on sustainability and the effects of climate change, enlightening viewers about the real cause of this phenomenon.

Tune in live at 1 pm ET by clicking here, or listen to the on-demand podcast thereafter. And, for a review of the film, click here.

The Best of Movies with Meaning – “Everything Is Copy”

Moviegoers are truly blessed when they’re able to read the writings and screen the films of an incredible talent. They’re especially fortunate when that talent is prolific, producing many worthwhile creations in many different milieus. It’s regrettable, however, when the creator of those works doesn’t always receive the recognition that’s genuinely deserved. So it was to some degree with writer-director-playwright Nora Ephron (1941-2012), who produced an impressive repertoire of works over the course of her career. Thankfully, Ephron finally receives the kudos she so rightfully earned, as seen in the made-for-TV documentary, “Everything Is Copy” (web site, trailer). The film, which originally aired on the HBO cable network, is now available on DVD.

This fun and lively tribute to Ephron was lovingly compiled by her son, Jacob Bernstein. It features interview segments with Ephron through the years, as well as the observations of those who knew and worked with her, including Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan, Meryl Streep, Mike Nichols, Steven Spielberg, Barbara Walters, Liz Smith, Gay Talese, Barry Diller, Rob Reiner, Rose O’Donnell, Bob Balaban, Carl Bernstein and Nora’s three sisters, Delia, Amy and Hallie. In addition, the film features clips from many of the movies that Ephron worked on as screenwriter and/or director, including “Heartburn” (1986), “Silkwood” (1983), “When Harry Met Sally” (1989), “This is My Life” (1992), “Sleepless in Seattle” (1993), “You’ve Got Mail” (1998) and “Julie and Julia” (2009). And, in a fitting homage to Ephron’s essay writing, portions of these works are brought to life in readings by the likes of Reese Witherspoon, Rita Wilson, Lena Dunham and Gaby Hoffman.

Writer-director Nora Ephron is the subject of the loving documentary tribute, “Everything Is Copy,” a made-for-cable TV offering now available on DVD. Photo by Dan Greenburg, courtesy of HBO.

Through Ephron’s writings and films, we learn much about what it means to be alive in the ever-shifting ways of our times. Simultaneously, her works also enliven the universal truths of the human condition, especially in areas like relationships, family, vocation and our place in the world. She gave us many gifts through her art, and, for that, we should be forever grateful.

“Everything Is Copy” delivers consistently from start to finish, effectively chronicling her colorful and storied career. It’s essential viewing for her fans and an informative portrait for those unfamiliar with her work. For a complete review, click here. The film is also a featured entry in my soon-to-be-released new book, Third Real: Conscious Creation Goes Back to the Movies, which will be available next month in print and ebook formats.

Cover design by Paul L. Clark, Inspirtainment.

Copyright © 2017, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.