Rilke tells us, “You must change your life.” But first, a contemporary version of the poem would say, you must change your IG handle. That is the story of “Ingrid Goes West,” the preeminent major motion picture to take as its subject Instagram. The characters narrate the film by reciting their social media captions and comments down to every tag (“hashtag perfect”) and emoji (“prayer hands emoji”).
Ingrid Thorburn (Aubrey Plaza) is at such a Rilkean crossroad of identity. In the aftermath of her mother’s death, she becomes enraged by a frenemy’s Instagram post from her wedding to which she wasn’t invited and drives to said nuptials and maces the woman in the face. That results in a stint at a treatment facility, a bunch of pill bottles and zero phone time.
Understandably tired of being the person who emerges from a psych ward, Ingrid cashes her $60,000 inheritance and moves to Los Angeles. There she becomes “ingridgoeswest” and that new person becomes obsessed with “_welltaylored_” an Insta-personality with a human body attached. The social media influencer — in these dark days we must acclimate ourselves to this job title — is called Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen) and she makes her money by placing the right products under the right filters.
After a couple days of stalking and a fairly standard kidnapping and faux rescue of Taylor’s dog, Ingrid is in cahoots with her hero. We immediately laugh at the mannered fakery of their relationship — the giddiest moment of Ingrid’s life is being tagged for the first time in Taylor’s feed.
They joyride through Joshua Tree carpool karaokeing to the classic K-Ci & JoJo jam “All My Life” but it ends with a bang, and a perfect showcase for Plaza’s abundant skills. No other young actress does what she does, letting her gaze to linger uncomfortably on the camera with an impish twist to her mouth. Plaza has knack for unsettling audiences with her crazier alter egos on the TV series “Parks and Recreation” or even her bizarre, Robert De Niro-canoodling turn in “Dirty Grandpa.”
Here, her landlord and more appropriate love interest is Dan (a marvelous O’Shea Jackson Jr.), whose passion for Batman would awe many a fanboy. He is writing his own spec script for a future installment in the franchise and earns bonus points for ignoring the work of Christopher Nolan to focus on the true peak of the caped crusading: Joel Schumacher’s “Batman Forever.” Dan is the only person here you would actually ever want to meet in your life.
Taylor’s husband Ezra (Wyatt Russell, looking like he strolled on set from a Wes Anderson film) is a different sort of L.A. fraud who makes knockoffs of Wayne White’s thrift store paintings. He does have one of the most important insights in the film on the difficulty of being the perfectly-curated partner: “It’s exhausting for everything to have to be the best.”
The surface-level happiness of the new Insta-friends falls apart with the arrival of Taylor’s brother, Nicky (Billy Magnussen), who flies in from Paris acting like a coked-up Ken doll with about the same mental capacity. In vying for Taylor’s attention, he quickly runs afoul of Ingrid and they are soon engaged in a bewildering blackmail plot.
There is a dubious return to the desert, where the first edition of Joan Didion’s “The White Album” that was great fodder for an Instagram post about what it means to be a young woman has a more urgent use as emergency toilet paper. Director and co-writer Matt Spicer cannot maintain the incandescence of the film’s first half because your interest flags when there’s nothing to do but wonder how dark the story will get. We must face a startling revelation: the worst possible ending for Ingrid isn’t death, it’s a dead cell phone.
‘Ingrid Goes West’ is showing at the Sonoma 9 Cinemas. Rated R. Running time 1:37. Visitcinemawest.com