Viscerally Awkward (and so flipping good)

February in Vancouver is weird. The sky feels too close and the rains are cold and mean. It’s not the friendly drizzle of autumn or the promising days of early spring. It just feels small, grey, and nasty. Unrelenting.

Hunkering down makes tremendous sense in this weather and lately I’ve been lurking around Instagram in a way that feels excessive.  It was with some trepidation that I cued up Ingrid Goes West on Netflix.

**Salty language in this trailer, warning**

The premise is timely. A young woman who just lost her mother moves to L.A. to be closer to her online crush, an Insta-star with a seemingly idyllic life and hundreds of thousands of followers. Aubrey Plaza as Ingrid Thorburn is so believably awkward I squirmed on the couch, nervously biting my fingers.

As she takes up residence in hip Venice Beach, spending her inheritance on blonde highlights, high rent, and photographable outfits, she spots her target in a store but is too bedazzled to make contact. Instead, she kidnaps Taylor Sloane’s (Elizabeth Olsen) dog and presents herself as the fun and fashionable neighbour that just happened across their pet.

Even as she pulls horrible stunts to get attention, I found myself wishing for her to succeed, to be ingratiated into the world she so desperately needs. To see her belong without artifice. But this is not that kind of film. It’s a dark satire, with plot twists and nastiness galore.

Olsen as Taylor Sloane is maddeningly cool and quotes from books she doesn’t read while blithely shopping for arty lampshades. She embodies the lifestyle blogger chic that has become a career choice for attractive young women. At first blush she’s effusive and likeable, the sort of person that cultivates fans. But when her brother is introduced to the narrative, her privilege bursts forth with all the velocity of the high end champagne she drinks at all hours of the day. (It’s 5 o’clock somewhere)

In an age where online popularity presents a whole new class divide, Ingrid Heads West casts a glaring light on the folly of idolizing brand ambassadors. Yes, Ingrid is not mentally well, but her compulsion is fuelled by the real and present pressure to appear perfectly curated online. This is an impressive debut from director Matt Spicer.

As for my own Instagram habit, I’m fortunate to know when to put my damned phone down and engage with the present moment. Which reminds me of an excellent essay by Ian Bogost called All Followers are Fake Followers (in response to the New York Time’s excellent piece on the same subject). The final line borders on Zen wisdom: “What’s better than a million followers? The empty field that frees you of the urge to care.” I wish for the fictional and real Ingrids of the world to have that same level of peace.

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