INGRID GOES WEST - a review through the eyes of bereavement
“We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” - Joan Didion
The script earned Smith and Spicer (who also directed) an award at the 2017 Sundance Festival. The talented cast is impeccable in their performances. The trailers for "Ingrid Goes West" depict the movie as a dark and over-the-top comedy about mental fragility, social media, superficiality and obsession. The iMDB summary of the movie is succinct: "An unhinged social media stalker moves to LA and insinuates herself into the life of an Instagram star." The comedy portion of the film is recognizable from the peculiar things all people, to one degree or another, do online. Staring at our phones, typing in strange responses, stalking people online that we do not know to see what their life might be... longing for bullet-proof perfect privilege.
But, how does this film stack up in terms of depicting young adults coping with grief and loss of parents? How #perfect is it where grief is concerned?
First, the movie is - like most movies - depicting people in a level of caricature. It is not a bio-pic, so expecting all the scenes to be realistic is beyond the scope of a film such as this. For instance, it is not likely that Ingrid would survive in Los Angeles as long as she did on the amount of money she inherited. Suspending judgement is a part of what film always invites us to do, unless it is a documentary film.
The two characters in the film that are known to have encounter the deaths of their parents are Ingrid and her love interest Dan Pinto.
Ingrid appears to have been a caregiver of her mother. At one point, she tells Dan that her mother "died of a heart attack" but we know this not to be the entire story given the earlier scene where a hospital bed appears in the living room that and emotionally bereft Ingrid falls asleep in. We are left with the impression that likely Ingrid has been a caregiver at home in some sort of hospice arrangement for some time. We also know that Ingrid was in a mental ward for some period of time, establishing her mental fragility - perhaps bipolar disorder. Later, Ingrid used the money she inherited to fund a transition to California to seek out her new online obsession. There she meets landlord Dan Pinto.
Dan is an orphan. He reveals that his parents died in a car accident. He has bonded with the character Batman to pull himself through this early, horrific loss. Though Dan has used a mythological character to pull him through a painful and frightening childhood, he is refreshingly authentic and transparent. This contrasts with the vapid Instagram reality that Ingrid chases.
Dan has offered a fragile opening where he allows Ingrid in... but she is oblivious to this potential bond, seeing her relationship as only a tactical advantage for her. She appears more herself with him, but has little time for this. Her attention is elsewhere. She goes to any length - ANY LENGTH - to attach herself to the one person she identifies as having the perfect life to feel as if she too, has such a life story.
The caped crusader myth of the story helps keep this movie out of the Single White Female genre. “We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” Grief has a way of throwing us out of our bodies and out of our lives. Grief can make us do insane things (maybe not like Ingrid, but nonetheless we will see sides of ourselves that we never had occasion to know existed...) My empathy bloomed for both characters in the scene where they are sharing their lack of parental presence. It reminds me of many conversations I have had with people where we are revealing our wounds and scars. I get the sense that Dan takes this all in and Ingrid is still teflon to the possible care being cooked between them. Ingrid has determined that her wellbeing is tied to closeness with the woman of her obsession and has no bandwidth for any other safe harbor.
Ingrid attempts suicide and puts the entire experience on Instagram. She awakens in the hospital and learn later that Dan saved her life. Her survival is tied to a real person with real transparency. She also sees an Instagram outpouring begging her not to kill herself. The ending of the movie leaves us with a question- will she stay in the online world alone or blend it with a real in-the-flesh relationship with Pinto?
I will need to see it again to review the suicide speech. I was too emotional to take it in as a reviewer should.
Pinto shows himself to be the only character worth knowing and he is marginalized throughout the film by all the characters. He has had the hardest loss and is the most un-glamorous and invisible. I have found, listening to the tales of many, that sometimes the most courageous people are not easily identified. They are living day to day below the shiny lights of our media.
I recommend this movie if you have a dark sense of humor, can withstand or close your eyes to some violence and a suicide scene that ends without death.