This Is a Movie Review: Aubrey Plaza Stops You Cold in the Instagram Tragicomedy ‘Ingrid Goes West’

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This review was originally posted on News Cult in August 2017.

Starring: Aubrey Plaza, Elizabeth Olsen, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Wyatt Russell, Billy Magnussen, Pom Klementieff

Director: Matt Spicer

Running Time: 97 Minutes

Rating: R for Cosplay Hanky-Panky, Surprise Cocaine, and an Amateur Kidnapping

Release Date: August 11, 2017 (Limited)

An early montage of Instagram posts in Ingrid Goes West features Elizabeth Olsen reading out loud the entirety of the captions. This is jarring for a couple of reasons, partly because captions are not designed to be spoken aloud and mainly because the emoji are given concrete descriptions. I would argue that such straightforwardness is antithetical to the spirit of emoji, whose meanings are often implicitly understood but generally maintain a level of fluidity. Similarly, social media posts purport to present a certain specific message, but there are layers of further meaning lurking underneath.

People like Ingrid Thorburn (Aubrey Plaza) interpret public personae with too much unwavering conviction, overly certain that an interaction with a virtual fan is an invitation to become a flesh-and-blood friend. But what Ingrid Goes West suggests is, maybe that is not exactly what she believes. Maybe that rigidity is just a coping mechanism because the alternative is too complicated to handle. Ingrid becomes obsessed with Taylor Sloane (Olsen) not just because her Instagrams of avocado toast represent the height of L.A. cool, but mainly because of the illusion that her life is perfectly put-together. To someone who is obviously mentally ill (and thus whose brain does not allow any stability), that is intoxicating.

Ingrid Goes West is not a condemnation of Instagram, not really. It is just the medium through which some unhealthy behavior that would still exist otherwise happens to be taking place. Still, if you are wrapped up in it, it is an overwhelming medium. What is fascinating about Plaza’s performance is that her excessive social media use does not drive her to make Ingrid excessively fake, but rather unnervingly real. True, she makes “friends” under false pretenses, but her capacity for genuine relationships and deep cavern of pain are what stick with you.

Ingrid Goes West is Recommended If You Like: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, The Talented Mr. Ripley, The King of Comedy

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Avocado Toasts

This Is a Movie Review: ‘Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2’ Fulfills Its Blockbuster Duty

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This review was originally published on News Cult in May 2017.

Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, Elizabeth Debicki, Kurt Russell

Director: James Gunn

Running Time: 136 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Space Opera Whiz Bang and Discussions About the Facts of Life

Release Date: May 5, 2017

As fun as this era of Marvel-ous moviemaking can be, a corporate agenda gets in the way of originality. But it is not necessarily the blueprint of interconnected universes that mandates that every superhero movie must end with a fight for the survival of the planet. That is simply this genre’s instinct. If you want to avoid it, you have to fight it. And expanding the setting to multiple galaxies is not the way to do so. That just raises the stakes. Instead of just Earth, it is the fate of the entire universe that hangs in the balance. Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 cannot help but be a part of this exhausting pattern, but it does what it can by rendering this gigantic fight as personal as possible.

When Peter Quill’s (Chris Pratt) long-lost papa Ego (Kurt Russell) shows up, Quill suspects that the reunion is a little too perfect. Gamora (Zoe Saldana) convinces him to give his dad a chance, assuring him that if treachery is afoot, killing him is always an option. So they, alongside Drax (Dave Bautista) and Ego’s empathic companion Mantis (Pom Klementieff) head off to Ego’s home planet. It looks like an idyllic utopia, but eventually it is revealed that Ego is the planet, and his intentions with his son may not be so aboveboard. The threat of universal apocalypse thereby feels intimate because it depends upon how Quill will or will not be manipulated.

Meanwhile, Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) are holding down the fort elsewhere and forming unlikely, but satisfying, alliances with Yondu (Michael Rooker) and Nebula (Karen Gillan). They must deal with an onslaught from a new race of aliens that I do not feel like getting into. They are probably here because they will factor significantly into future Marvel Cinematic Universe installments, but for now, they are a distraction from the main conflict. I am not opposed in principle to splitting up the main crew. Rocket and Groot, after all, have a delightful C-3PO/R2-D2-style repartee wherever they go. They can do their own thing, it just does not need to be so extensive when the main thrust is already so all-encompassing.

While vol. 2 does fall prey to sequel bloat, the Guardians crew is reliable enough for their adventures to have a pretty high floor. The banter is top-notch, fueled as it is by intergalactic culture clash. Gamora attempts to comfort Quill by referencing his attachment to a certain beloved-by-Germans celebrity, but she totally botches the details. Quill later fires back with a Cheers analogy of their relationship that is adorably confused. Drax demonstrates how his race is quite open about discussing sexual matters with a colorful description of his parents’ experiences. This is all helped along by Mantis’ empathic abilities, in which she can feel others’ emotions and thus open up the dams holding back honesty. The pinnacle of all this sharing is Baby Groot’s opinion on hats (which does not even need Mantis’ prompting).

Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 is Recommended If You Like: “I am Groot.” “I am Groot?” “I AMMM GROOOOOOOT!”

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Sweet Sounds of the Seventies