Despite finding fame during a stint on a well-loved sitcom, and tearing up safe raunchy comedy after safe raunchy comedy on the Hollywood circuit ever since, Aubrey Plaza has become a bit of a maverick in the last year.
On top of the overloaded period send-up The Little Hours that also took the leap at this year’s Sundance, her starring turn (and first producer credit) in Ingrid Goes West is very clearly the start of something a lot more substantial from the wild-eyed actress.
Plaza’s known for being the crazy girl; the unstable date that’s always one mad idea away from jail. She’s always a solid laugh and in paving such a path, she’s found a neat little identity for herself in an industry that seems to only ever be looking for “types”. With Ingrid though, she’s taking a giant leap, not away from that, but towards it, through it and ultimately beyond it.
Because there’s no denying that Plaza’s title character here is a little cuckoo. Hell, she’s even defined as such, branded with a giant red “crazy” stamp before she’s even made it through her own opening credits. But what Matt Spicer’s film (and more importantly, his and David Branson Smith’s script) does so beautifully is to put down roots, and actually develop its lead’s mental struggles as it presses on. Laced with a deliciously dark sense of humour and a pointed finger that’s only too happy to poke fun at the “millennial” wave and their countless hashtags, it’s a massively clever and very timely update on the classic stalker thriller.
Plaza herself is the obvious standout, adding so many more behind-the-scenes layers to the mindset she’s been juggling on-screen for years, but there’s almost equally as much texture to her surroundings too. Olsen’s hyper-friendly free spirit “photographer” (with a lower-case ‘p’) is the film’s true foil, starting as little more than vapid, and quickly becoming the embarrassingly flawed, see-through queen bee of the film’s make-believe hipster world. Her on-screen beau, the always dependable Wyatt Russell, also manages a brilliant sideways spin on the tortured artist, and everything down to the film’s spot-on grasp of the Instagram world is very, very close to pitch perfect.
The only thing missing is a killer final act. Spicer and his team build towards such a poisonous finale that the one that finally comes, reverse-hallmark moments and all, just ends up feeling a little too muddled. Somewhere along the way, Ingrid’s viciously biting script gets a bit too lost in its own little universe of delectable douchebaggery, and the film’s ending is where it really pays the price. And while the detestable final note is still, in many ways, a great one, the shimmying it takes to get there never feels quite as well-worked-out as the rest. Most notably, a spot of unexpected sweetness, hidden in – of all things – an off-kilter romance, that’s given much too wide a birth.
But troubles aside, there’s no escaping that this is not only brave, but effective comedy. Powered by Plaza’s most stand-out performance to date (and possibly one of the best of the year full stop), and a gratingly snide script that very rarely lets up, Ingrid Goes West leans on just the right side of satire; playfully mocking, but never nastily so. And by knitting in a surprisingly thoughtful undercurrent to the film’s drama, Spicer, Branson and Plaza show that they’re as much about concern here, for the social media generation, as they are about ridicule.
Ingrid Goes West was screened as part of the 61st BFI London Film Festival and is released in the UK on 17th November.