Ingrid Goes West (2017)
Rated R for a lot of language and a sex scene that, while it has no nudity, is pretty intense. It's really weird watching it on a plane. I'll do you one better. It's really awkward watching it on a plane with your kids nearby. There was me, covering up the screen and hoping that whatever weird French cartoon that my little one was watching was going to keep her attention. There's also some violence, culminating in a suicide attempt. It goes into some pretty heavy content. R.
DIRECTOR: Matt Spicer
Welcome to Movie Two of the Tim-on-an-Airplane trilogy. One of my students from my film class (which I have official confirmation will not be happening due to the fact that everyone wants to take honors classes) watched this for his blog and it sounded really intriguing. I mean, I'm not alone in the celebration of Aubrey Plaza. I got on the Plaza train with Parks & Recreation, but I found out that she had some mean acting chops when it came to her time on Legion. Unlike Hobbs & Shaw, I didn't think that I would ever really get around to it someday. But despite having a million movies to choose from, it was somehow still slim pickings. It's not like I regretted watching Ingrid Goes West. Quite the opposite. I just want everyone to understand the headspace that I was in when choosing a movie that I could probably watch anytime.
I don't know what it is about the films like The King of Comedy that appeal to me. I'm going to get vulnerable because I encourage that in others, but there's something very real about the celebrity appeal. I don't have posters of celebrities in my home. I don't follow up on personal lives. But I have had real conversations with celebrities. During the good ol' podcast days, there were times that agents set up interviews with celebrities. (Yeah, I don't know how that worked out. But I can tell you right now, I didn't hate it.) I've had real, in-depth conversations with people that I only know through their work. I've kept in touch with one of my favorite authors. I had a friend from high school become a mega-star. Do you understand how unnerving it is feeling awkward about sending a friend a message just saying "hi" knowing that a million other people are doing that as well? But even beyond the notion of celebrity, I think that everybody --to a certain extent --struggles with the notion of mutual respect and love. I have friends that I feel like I'm bothering every time that I reach out. That's wired into me. I'm torn between the notion between being a celebrity in certain circles and a pest in other circles. I don't know. My ego is at war with itself all day.
All this leads into Ingrid. The eponymous Ingrid is clearly in the wrong for the things that she is doing. The movie establishes early and clearly that Ingrid has real problems with respecting boundaries and developing meaningful friendships. Her moral compass is completely skewed by her obsession with celebrity and Matt Spicer sets that up beautifully. But if Spicer left the film in this ballpark, it would just be another The King of Comedy or Misery. When the fan becomes a fanatic, they become a villain quickly. But Spicer refuses to let us off the hook with this idea and I applaud him for it so hard. Instead, Spicer wants to talk about the hypocrisy of celebrity. Everything about celebrity, especially in this social media age (I write, despite realizing that I am aware that there are strangers who read my blog and I continually beg for them to do so), is about fostering devotion. In the case of Ingrid, it is an influencer who has both a warm personality and a toxic personality simultaneously. On one hand, the dynamic between Ingrid and Taylor is one of celebrity to fan. But in a much more universal way, it is the story of friendship when one friend is really the alpha.
It means that every element of Ingrid Goes West is pathetic in the best way. As much as we can criticize Ingrid for her obsession with this false world, Ingrid Goes West criticizes Taylor just as much. As earnest and fun as Taylor claims to be, she uses Ingrid to feed her own selfish ego, even though she believes that Ingrid is outside of her celebrity / fan dynamic. The fact that Taylor tires of Ingrid all because of the arrival of Nicky spells out her true nature. When Ezra confesses his misgivings of Taylor by the pool, it all scans with the notion that no one really deserves to be a celebrity. The notion of a tiered system is inherently artificial and unsustainable. I do believe that Taylor really liked Ingrid. But the way that she lives her life means that she really can't afford to maintain friendships. Instead, it is about constantly forging new friendships. Nicky, her brother, is oddly new to her. He isn't necessarily enamored with her and there's something appealing about the thing that doesn't really care. It's why Ezra is frustrated. He committed to her. He's the first fan, before she was famous. That's great, but if you aren't growing, you are dying.
Contrast all of this to Dan. It's funny because Dan is oddly the most over-the-top character to ever serve as the avatar to the audience. While we probably relate to Ingrid in the most depressing part of our personalities slightly, Dan's the level-headed guy. His celebrity dynamic can't ever really be fulfilled because he has channeled that need to be special through a fictional character: Batman. Sure, he's a film fan when he drops the Joel Schumacher conversation on Ingrid, but that's really a celebration of pop culture. As goofy and kind of nerdy as it is, Dan's obsession is the most healthy because it will forever be in the abstract. It's probably why the whole Catwoman thing is so darned sexy to him, because it makes it --for a split second --tangible. He's aware that Catwoman is Ingrid, but he's willing to lie to himself in the same way that Ingrid is lying to herself about who she is.
I'm jumping right now to all of the movies that I have watched about the obsession with celebrities. I tend to love them, with the exception of Joker. But they were made by celebrities venting about their frustrations with their fans. I know that Woody Allen claims that Stardust Memories is a work of fiction, but I can't see that kind of commitment to the story without harboring some real resentment about what it means to be a celebrity. But it is so fascinating seeing Ingrid Goes West point the focus on the storyteller as well as the audience. It would be simple to say that Spicer is attacking influencers, but nothing about that story is unique to the influencer. The choice of the influencer is perhaps more timely. As that line between actor and personality quickly fades into obscurity, I can see how perhaps "influencer" just hits a bit harder. We don't really have as many George Clooneys anymore. We simply have multimedia personalities.
So it works. It really works as a film. To a certain extent, it's a movie that I've seen before. But this one just hits a little harder. It's also a movie that we need to see every so often in some form to remind us that friendship is hard and that people kind of don't mean to suck, but do. Before I close up, I should talk about the ending. The suicide thing really bugged me for a bit because there was this almost dangerous message about the cry-for-help element drawing undeserved sympathy. Because some people who read this may never see the movie, Ingrid, at her lowest, attempts suicide. Dan saves her and social-media-suicide-note has brought so much attention to her life that she gets the one thing that she really wanted: celebrity. That seems pretty dangerous to put into a film because the message kind of comes across as "Kill yourself. People will love you." But really, it's the fact that, in her suicide attempt, she realizes the stupidity of celebrity culture. When she survives the suicide attempt and people love her, she quickly resets and becomes the very thing she was rallying against. It's a dangerous ending, but I kind of dig it as well.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.