In this first feature by director Matt Spicer, internet addiction is lampooned deftly, in a parody that is two parts zany comedy of errors to one part razor-sharp satire. Aubrey Plaza plays Ingrid Thorburn, a young woman whose slightly delicate state of mind is thrown completely off-balance by the death of her beloved mother. Ingrid has tried to fill the emptiness in her life by making friends online, but the effort resulted in her spiralling into obsession and stalking her favourite internet ‘friend’. We are introduced to Ingrid when she has reached her lowest point: violating a restraining order to lash out at the woman she had been following online, resulting in a short stay in a psychiatric facility.
Having quickly introduced Ingrid’s obsession and the reasons behind it, the film launches her into a hopeless repetition of the same cycle. Once released from the hospital, lonely and aimless, Ingrid spends her time compulsively clicking the ‘like’ button on Instagram pictures, almost her only contact with the outside world. She comes across a post by a young woman in California, who has become something of an internet star with her reviews of home decor and upscale goods. Ingrid comments on the picture, and when she receives a friendly reply, becomes fixated on the site’s owner, Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen). Ingrid becomes determined to make Taylor her friend.
As Ingrid’s obsession grows, she painstakingly manages her contact with Taylor, wanting to stay on Taylor’s radar yet avoid seeming over-eager. When Ingrid receives a modest legacy from her deceased mother, she decides to move to California and attempt to contact Taylor in person. She finds an apartment not far from Taylor’s home – which she is able to locate precisely via online clues, a feat that is as sinister as it is plausible. Despite a beautiful new location, a friendly and agreeable landlord/neighbour (O’Shea Jackson, Jr.), and a tolerable nest-egg, all of which might have allowed her to make a fresh start, Ingrid can think only of meeting her largely imaginary friend.
While Ingrid, leaving a trail of destruction behind her in her single-minded efforts, is the source of most of the film’s comedy, some of the most pointed humour is directed at Ingrid’s new friends themselves, and their own internet presence. Taylor’s Instagram site is a parody of others of its kind, which give a sentimental, quasi-spiritual value to select material possessions, presenting food, cosmetics, and decorative items as if they guaranteed personal fulfilment. Taylor’s partner, Ezra, is the quintessential hipster with a man-bun and scruffy beard, who suffers from chronic worry over his personal and artistic authenticity, and whose artwork consists of stencilling interesting words onto existing paintings. The pair provide a perfect device for the film’s mockery of internet stardom.
Among a good overall cast, Aubrey Plaza does well as the exasperating, painfully misguided Ingrid, bringing out both the humour and the pathos in her futile efforts at connection. Elizabeth Olsen is amusing as Taylor, a woman confident in her online popularity and her vacuous avant-garde pretension – all of which are implied to be as much a false front as Ingrid’s adopted persona.
Ingrid’s carefully constructed network of deception begins to crumble, leading her to increasingly desperate measures, and ultimately back to the same situation she had fled by coming to California. With the help of a friend she had all but dismissed in her pursuit of Taylor’s friendship, she tries to regain lost ground and fend off inevitable disaster. The film’s conclusion is a wonderfully cynical mix of an internet-era version of a happy ending, and one last jab at online artificiality and the damage it can do.