It’s no secret that social media is a huge part of the average person’s life these days. I’ll admit that one of my new year’s resolutions was to spend less time on my phone, wasting precious hours on Facebook and Instagram. I haven’t made any effort to measure my time spent browsing my social feeds, but I’m pretty sure I’ve failed miserably.
I couldn’t even begin to list off all of the reasons social media has taken over our lives, but I do know it has gotten in the way of real, authentic relationships. What people present on social media is usually what they believe to be their best selves. That’s why Ingrid Goes West is so impactful. At times it feels like you shouldn’t be laughing. It hits a little too close to home. And that’s the point.
When Ingrid inherits a big chunk of change from her mom, she moves to California to try to become friends with her latest social media obsession: Taylor Sloane. Ingrid changes her whole appearance to match Taylor’s, trying to think of every conceivable way to meet her in person. She finally resorts to kidnapping Taylor’s dog, Roscoe, and slyly refusing the award money to earn her favor. It seems that Ingrid’s dreams have come true when Taylor starts to pursue her to hang out more and more.
The closer Ingrid gets to Taylor, the more she starts to realize that maybe Taylor’s life isn’t as perfect as it seems. Taylor has some insecurities too. When Taylor’s brother, Nicky (the epitome of a douchebag), finds out about her obsession with Taylor and blackmails her, Ingrid turns to the only real friend who cares about her, her landlord/faux boyfriend, Dan.
Dan’s intervention in the situation sets off a series of events that spiral to Ingrid being exposed and shunned by the person whose approval she wants the most in the world: Taylor. It’s clear that Ingrid measures her value and worth by the affirmation of “friends” on social media. Even when Dan is right in front of her, trying to show her how much he cares about her, she can’t peel her eyes away from her phone long enough to realize what she wants is at her fingertips.
The scathing criticism of social media in this film shows how we are easily swayed by the “next big thing.” We will change our wardrobe, our diet, and our hobbies on a dime based on what the latest social media influencer is posting. And this isn’t a new phenomena. Paul encourages the church in Ephesus not to be “tossed to and fro by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” What Ingrid (and the rest of humanity) fails to recognize is that putting our value in and measuring our worth by a trend that’s here today and gone tomorrow is empty and leads to despair.
The constant need to be informed about what everyone else is doing at any given moment and what everyone else has that we don’t, is rooted in large part in loneliness. The danger in measuring the quality of your “friendships” by likes, and re-tweets, is it perpetuates a constant fear of being left out of something. While it’s easy to chuckle at the recently popularized concept of FOMO, (fear of missing out) the sentiment is incredibly real and incredibly sad.
The human heart is already prone to dis-contentedness. We are always tempted to believe if we could just have this person’s house or that person’s car, then we’d be happy. The Bible gives us a different prescription for the longings of the heart. “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” (Psalm 37). Delighting ourselves in the Creator of all things is what truly leads to being content with what he has given us.
In the film, Ingrid is grappling with grief after her mother’s death. Whether her social media obsession was birthed from her trauma, or was enhanced by it, it’s gotten out of control. Clearly Ingrid has a legitimate mental illness in this movie, but writer/director, Matt Spicer, does a great job walking that dark comedy tightrope where you kind of chuckle awkwardly at the situation because it’s so absurd, but also have a measure of compassion for the protagonist.
Aubrey Plaza and Elizabeth Olsen give excellent performances in this film and the characters were expertly written, especially Dan, played by O’Shea Jackson Jr., (Straight Outta Compton). He’s an aspiring screenwriter obsessed with the Batman franchise and is confident he is writing the next big Batman movie, unbeknownst to anyone else in Hollywood. Dan’s character helps to bring some levity to the film, helping it solidify its place in the dark comedy genre so that we don’t have to leave the theater feeling like everyone is either a big phony or a complete nut case.
It’s true that Ingrid Goes West is an important, and often times, hilarious commentary on our social media obsessed culture. It also shows the danger of social media even if it is hyperbolic. But more than that, it acts as a mirror for our own lives. I walked away from the film being struck by how easy it is to define friendship by the same standards as Ingrid. I’m also swayed by my social feed and what it tells me I have to have. I also struggle with being content and grateful for what I have.
Ingrid Goes West is uncomfortable in large part because I think we can all see a bit of ourselves in Ingrid. Whether it brings about a change in your social media habits or not, that’s up to you, but it is at least cause for reflection.