Ingrid Goes West–Don’t Tag Along

Ingrid Goes West

Social media can evoke strong feelings. There have been a number of critically acclaimed plays, movies, and television series dealing with the impact of social media, mostly negative, and primarily associated with depression (which social scientific research currently validates). Examples aren’t hard to find: “13 Reasons Why”, “Dear Evan Hansen”, one episode from “Black Mirror”. Ingrid Goes West can be added to this growing subgenre.

An unhinged social media stalker, Ingrid Thorburn (comically and poignantly played by Aubrey Plaza of “Parks and Recreation”), is a social outcast looking for a BFF. She discovers the virtual life of Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen), an Instagram “star”, whose perfect virtual lifestyle becomes Ingrid’s latest obsession. So Ingrid decides to leave her boring life behind and move to LA. What ensues is at times hilarious with satirical insights for our media-crazed world.

The themes in Ingrid Goes West are obvious and one-dimensional: social media is an illusionary world, narcissistic (Trump, anyone?) and better than it seems. Yet, Ingrid’s pathological need for attention and social acceptance are believable, especially from a vulnerable 20-something woman. No one is likable in Ingrid Goes West, especially Ingrid. But I wanted to have empathy for Ingrid’s flawed character: she displays total disregard for right and wrong. Ingrid has little remorse for her actions, and less compassion for others.

Ingrid Goes West leaves this viewer wondering how far would we go to fit in to a group we consider important for our well-being. How far would you go to be accepted or consent to be manipulated?

The angst that engulfs Ingrid is seen in her face, her body language, the way she obsesses. Desperate to distract herself from who she really is for who she wants people to think she is,   social media filters her life choices with the imaginary friends usually associated with very young children.

The satire of Ingrid Goes West has become a bit of a fault line. Those inclined to think scrolling through your phone is anti-social, may think Ingrid Goes West is vapid Tweeting.  But I looked at it as a takedown of hashtags, Instagram pics, “likes” and emojis. It’s perhaps more accurate to call this movie a critique of human behavior and the social media’s impact on all of us, an impact we don’t fully understand yet, since the technology is new but ubiquitous. The insidiousness of social media can turn toxic. Additionally, Facebok, Instagram, and Twitter can hold up a mirror to us and a metric for not only vanity but for community and what constitutes it.

 

Note:  As of this writing, Ingrid Goes West is playing in theaters nationwide.

 

 

Maudie–Anything but Maudlin

 

Guest post by   Romalyn Tilghman, author of To the Stars Through Difficulties 

 

Maudie the movie

Maudie

Maudie is the fictionalized account of the life of a self-taught artist, Maud Lewis (1903-1970), who lived in Nova Scotia. Maud (played by Sally Hawkins) answers an ad from fishmonger Everett Lewis (Ethan Hawke) to clean his filthy, one-room shack shared with his chickens and dogs. Despite rheumatoid arthritis and slowness of speech, Maud becomes dedicated to serving him. Everett, having grown up in an orphanage and now living miles from town, epitomizes the curmudgeonly, reclusive bachelor.

The dialogue in Maudie is sparse, showcasing the actors’ gestures and facial expressions. The Nova Scotia landscape is stark but beautiful and so is the evolving companionship between Everett and Maud. Their relationship is never easy, but we watch as their respect, codependence, and even love, builds over the course of the movie, despite the ever-present tension.

Maud’s cheerful folk-art paintings bring not only light to their small wooden cabin but also to a larger art world thanks to a New York benefactor. The patroness instantly sees the appeal of Maud’s colorful trees, cats and birds, at first created only with the remnants of house paint.

I was disappointed that Maudie didn’t reveal more of the joy the artist must have felt in her own work. Photographs, of both the real Maud Lewis and her paintings, are featured in the end credits and show clearly that such joy did exist. But, despite watching a difficult relationship in hard times, we do understand that windows of light may frame the vast and sometimes dark landscape which includes our psychological home. As Maud finds cheer beyond the walls of her ramshackle home, she tells us, “The whole of life is already framed.” She shows us a new way of seeing our world.

Note: One of the voices in my novel, To the Stars Through Difficulties, is of a 30-something self-taught artist, nicknamed Trash, who was rescued from a garbage can on Times Square when she was only hours old. Using only recycled materials, she finds her own worth through self-expression and art-making. As an artist-in-residence in Kansas, she discovers both fulfillment and friendship.

 

“Baby Driver”–For Millennials

Baby Driver movie review[Originally published for Blog Critics, July 3, 2017]

The highly praised feature film Baby Driver, starring newcomer Ansel Elgort as Baby, tells the story of a millenial car driver getting in and out of trouble while trying to capture the love of his life. Baby drives fast and furiously, shifting gears and tapping tunes he hears on this iPod (yes, an iPod) on his steering wheel while waitng for the criminal types he chauffeurs around to complete their heists–robbing banks and the post office.

Baby’s boss, Doc, (the incomparable Kevin Spacey in a role not deserving of his talent) is owed a debt from Baby, providing the motivation for the young getaway driver’s awful choices in job options and companions. One of the criminals, Buddy, (played by Jon Hamm, again, a waste of this actor’s abilities), seems to empathize with Baby at times, instead of humiliating him. A psychopathological maniac, Bats (Jamie Foxx, what were you thinking?), provides much of the gratuitous gore. A kindly foster father (played by C J Jones) offers one of the only heartbeats indicating humanity.

Baby Driver is first and foremost, about, sensational car chases and these are some of the most choreographed this viewer has ever seen. The cars rev up to mostly 70’s music with preposterous outcomes and perfect timing for comic effect. Furthermore, Baby has tinnitus, which he drowns out with his iPod, providing killer timing and the graceful rhythms his body dances to while walking, weaving in and out of the crowd as if driving on the streets of Atlanta.

A car-centric crime drama, with the actors timing their movements to the soundtrack, Baby Driver features constant, often glamorized violence. There are several mass shootings, with machine-gun deaths choreographed to music. You’ll also see several car accidents with splintering glass and bloody dead bodies, sudden deaths, blood, and gore. Many of the characters eventually die sudden, terrible deaths. Female characters are stereotypes, ogled by both the characters and the camera.

While this movie will continue to receive accolades and become a box office hit (released June 28), its target demographic–millennial guys–may be sufficient to gather some award nominations. The main actor, Ansel Elgort, holds the viewer’s attention, a babyfaced Patrick Swayze, who will almost certainly have more challenging roles offered in the future. Similar to “Drive”, Baby Driver has less story and convincing dialog. I would not recommend this one to non-millennial viewers. We are the wrong demographic.