As those of us that follow the Oscar race know, Best Actress this year is a bloodbath with no clear frontrunner. You have Sally Hawkins for The Shape Of Water and Frances McDormand for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri out in front. Then names like Margot Robbie for I, Tonya, Saoirse Ronan for Lady Bird, Jessica Chastain for Molly’s Game, Emma Stone for Battle Of The Sexes, and even an actress you may know named Meryl Streep for The Post.
But there is one performance that deserves to be in the conversation that is sadly under people’s radar: Aubrey Plaza for Ingrid Goes West.
Aubrey Plaza is best known for her supporting turn as the deadpan intern April Ludgate on the comedy series Parks and Recreation. Aside from her scene-stealing quips, Plaza has shown hints of her dramatic capabilities with the way her character grows throughout the show as April goes from a misanthropic college student initially unsure of what direction she wants her life to go in before continuously analyzing her career choices.
Yet even if you are familiar with her work as April, you will not see a trace of her in Aubrey Plaza’s revelatory performance as Ingrid Thorburn, a mentally ill woman who’s a little too obsessed with social media, particularly Instagram, but turns to social media to find connection with other people since she lost her mother who was her best friend. Whenever Ingrid sees someone “like” something that she posts, she can easily mistake that for a meaningful relationship.
But in spite of the film’s colorful, seriocomic tone and the fact that Plaza is playing someone who has a mental illness, she almost never makes jokes at the expense of her character’s condition. She does get to showcase her rather acidic comedic delivery but she is also able to dig deep into the dramatic anxiety surrounding her character. Much of the drama being showcased in her performance is demonstrated through her expressive eyes.
During one scene towards the end where Ingrid tries calling Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen), her newfound friend, and starts to realize that Taylor has abandoned her, Plaza demonstrates her character’s sudden fear of solitude through her panicking eyes as well as her speech patterns that within seconds go from kindly to ferocious. When Ingrid is on the brink of loneliness, it’s as if she’s starting to crack like a porcelain doll.
Interestingly, it is the moments in the film when Ingrid is alone where Aubrey Plaza’s performance shines brightest. In those small moments, we get a grand sense of what kind of person Ingrid is because of how she is fixated on her Instagram feed and the various facial glances that Plaza gives as Ingrid goes from photo to photo range from crazily obsessive to euphoric happiness. She is able to tell us plenty about the person she plays without ever having to actually tell us anything.
Even in a scene where Ingrid and Taylor are singing “All My Life” by K-Ci and JoJo in a car, when Ingrid gets to the line “And I hope that you feel the same way too,” she has a look of yearning and uses the song as a way to channel her feelings. Like I said, the performance lives almost entirely in Plaza’s eyes. If she didn’t let us see the vulnerability behind Ingrid’s obsession or hadn’t shown how a liked post can make feel Ingrid feel loved and appreciated, Ingrid would’ve been portrayed as rather one-note.
It’s easy to be on the brink of caricature when an actor portrays a person with a mental illness. Admittedly, as much as I liked Silver Linings Playbook, I thought the two lead performances by Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence were a tad too broad. But Aubrey Plaza manages to make Ingrid feel like a real person. Even if some of the things that Ingrid does to be appreciated aren’t agreeable, she still manages to be a complex characterization regardless.
A nomination for Aubrey Plaza would not only be a way to nominate her three-dimensional performance but also a way to honor her redefining year with Ingrid Goes West and her supporting turn on the FX series Legion which garnered her significant praise and a critics push for an Emmy nomination for Best Supporting Actress In A Drama Series.
I know that the Academy has a rocky relationship with comedians going serious. For every Bill Murray that gets nominated, there’s a Jim Carrey that they’ll just never go for. But I ask that they overlooked their comedian bias and recognize Aubrey Plaza’s tremendous work. I’m sure Oscar favorites like Meryl Streep, Kate Winslet, Judi Dench, and even Jessica Chastain are terrific and are worthy of being in the Best Actress race. But they don’t just have to go for familiarity and Aubrey Plaza deserved to be welcomed into the Oscar club.