Review: ‘A Touch of Jen’ Captures Instagram’s Uncomfortable Social Dynamics
This turn of phrase is appropriate here. Sympathy can be largely on the Internet, but it is very busy with the body, its fragility and porosity. Alice’s grandmother is dying of cancer; Alice becomes pregnant and later has a miscarriage; Mizuko is suffering from a seizure caused by a brain parasite two centimeters long. And the novel is inundated with various types of viscera: uterine blood, enema fluid, saliva. When, at one point in a drunken state, Mizuko and Alice share a kiss, Alice notes that “a single strand of saliva is emerging between us as she walks away.” Even when Sudjic writes specifically about technological elements, his language tends towards the bodily and libidinal. Holding Mizuko’s phone in his hand is “a bit like holding his brain … as if [it] were gelled or gooey. During a conference held on the Columbia campus, she observes a row of students “all frantically stroking illuminated screens held in their knees.” The Internet is a vehicle for real pain and pleasure. No one is as invulnerable as their online appearance might suggest.
The film Ingrid goes west begins with its own scene of frenzied hugs: We see an iPhone in close-up, a disembodied thumb scrolling through a series of wedding photos on Instagram, automatically double-tapping to like each one. Next, the camera cuts off the user’s face, more specifically their eyes. They’re bloodshot and watery, edged in smudged mascara, pupils almost completely erased by the glow of the screen. It’s about Ingrid, who we learn in the opening sequence recently lost her mother and has a history of social media attachment formation unhealthy enough to land her in a mental hospital. Upon her release, she quickly finds a new obsession in the pages of a glossy magazine: influencer Taylor Sloane, whose California lifestyle is a feverish dream of vintage campers, filtered sunsets, toast to avocado and oversized sunglasses. Ingrid collects her modest inheritance and travels to Venice Beach in pursuit of her.
Like Alice in Sympathy, Ingrid uses Taylor’s Instagram activity to set up a date with Taylor, get a dye job in her living room, and hang out at her favorite cafe. contrary to Sympathy, However, Spicer’s film is a comedy: When a chance encounter in a boutique doesn’t yield the desired result, Ingrid kidnaps Taylor’s beloved dog, Rothko, so she can play the hero responsible for his return. By refusing the reward money Taylor and her husband offer, she quarrels over a dinner invitation instead. As if by magic, Ingrid becomes a member of Taylor’s inner circle, her VIP status sealed to Joshua Tree over cocaine and margaritas. Of course, it’s not magic at all, but Taylor’s narcissism. Alice and Ingrid may not do particularly well in their respective narratives, but neither do the women they cling to, who are drawn not only to the sycophancy of their sidekicks, but also the fact that they seem to resemble them.
The end of Ingrid and Taylor’s honeymoon period is hastened by the arrival of Taylor’s brother Nicky, a manipulative party animal who immediately senses something about his sister’s new friend and sets out to prove it. “I’m not doing anything wrong,” Ingrid says pathetically after Nicky steals her phone and uncovers a cache of incriminating evidence on her fixation on Taylor. She is more right than the film allows. Taylor’s profession, after all, is to woo parasocial relationships in order to sell things, a cynical layer of complicity applied to advertising’s oldest promise: Buy this product and your life could be like mine. Is it so surprising that someone could take this invitation to its logical conclusion and more? Ingrid is clearly ill, but she’s also Taylor’s most loyal customer, which is a testament to her success as a brand.