Monday, November 6, 2017


There is no like on Instagram. Facebook has long added the sophistication of grades or reasons for liking a status. You can be sad or angry or add flavour to your like with a big red heart. On instagram there's just the heart or nothing. The prologue of this satirical fable takes us on a whirlwind course a woman runs from a few hearts to a violent wedding invasion. Cut to a few months later, Ingrid, the invader, gets out of psychiatric care and finds that her mother, whom she nursed to the end before her meltdown, left her a small fortune. That's why it's a fable, big barrier out of the way. So, when she reads in a paper magazine about the newest Instagram star, Taylor, and her fixation engine revs like a top fuel car she does what it says in the title, renting an impressive apartment in L.A. and going on full stalk until she makes contact. This is on the strength of a couple of return hearts from Taylor.

If you know her work and I tell you that Ingrid is played by Aubrey Plaza you might get a good idea of how this will play out. Hold that thought. As fortune (really, sheer creepy guile) has it Ingrid finds a way to throw herself into Taylor's inner circle and gets enough of a chance to show her real life heartability that the pair are soon friends for real, Ingrid folding herself into Taylor's marriage and realm. Ingrid's nurture of the connection, a blend of invention and petty criminality, tells reassuringly that achieving this goal seems to be giving her shaky self-esteem a promising boost. Then comes the fly in the ointment: Taylor's brother, a kind of drug monster from the one percent, provides the kind of combustible threat that Ingrid feels all too keenly and from that point things start getting a tad noir.

Rather than the upward mobility aspired by a Mildred Pierce Ingrid easily prefers something more like outward mobility, a mini cosmos of smartphone applause, hearts and followers. This is why the theme of this one doesn't stop at identity hunger of something like Single White Female (namechecked for completeness in the dialogue) and shows us through the riches of what might as well be the approval of the population of the Milky Way, and what lies beneath such a claim when the flesh and blood behind the #nofilter beauty of the life on screen has to account for itself for real. The horror of this is played under the comedy but seethes beneath the air kissing, smiles and California cool.

Given the skills of the two leads, what might have struggled as satire gathers strength through confident character study. Plaza minus her deadly deadpan schtick and Olsen light years away from the traumatised or innocent she has played make this work and work the way it needs to. Social media is both young enough but worn enough to still be prey to a starker satire than this but the aspirations that motivate it are on display here. Plaza's Ingrid is constantly struggling to achieve a point where this is normal for her and finding the means to keep her persona and her real anxiety-ridden self at least fluid is a feat. Her near constant selfie taking is from both of these points and can be as pitiable as it can funny. Elizabeth Olsen as Taylor lets us see the fragility of Taylor's ascended self that seems a forced pealing laugh away from a course of Xanax. We will see something of her real face and the moment is quiet and dark.

The laughs keep coming and most of the them are recognition humour (Ingrid redrafting the closing of an Instagram post until forced to something remote but easy has a warm familiarity) but the performances of a smart and well directed screenplay allow for a lot of subtlety we might not expect from a film that plays the satire hand from the word go. There is a very funny take on Chekov's loaded gun rule, and some well turned parallels between fan fiction and social media fandom (and the perceived hierarchy in the difference) that attest to the ideas on show here but nowhere does this tale get more gutpunching than the second-thought demanding final shot. Is it a happy ending? Is it the first image of a nightmare? Turn your phone back on when you leave the cinema (you DID turn it off, didn't you?) and notice where you go first.

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