PARK CITY, Utah
As much as this year’s Sundance Film Festival has focused on the immediate dangers of climate change, the single greatest threat to our existence may seem somewhat more benign.
At least that’s my takeaway after having seen Aubrey Plaza and Elizabeth Olsen in “Ingrid Goes West” and Nicholas Hoult, Laia Costa and Las Vegas native Matthew Gray Gubler in “Newness” — two of the millennialiest movies at this year’s fest.
“Ingrid Goes West” focuses on the plight of Ingrid Thorburn (Plaza), who’s spent time in a mental institution after stalking someone she followed via Instagram. When she reads a magazine profile about social media influencer Taylor Sloane (Olsen), Ingrid starts following Taylor’s Instagram account and responds to one of her countless, vapid posts: “Another day, another avocado toast.”
Taylor makes the mistake of responding, telling Ingrid the name of the restaurant that provided that avocado toast that no doubt made her feel #blessed and suggests she try it the next time she’s in L.A. So Ingrid packs up, cashes out her recently deceased mother’s estate, puts $62,000 in cash in a backpack and moves across the country to be near Taylor.
What follows is a darkly comic look at loneliness and desperation, as well as the perils of social media fame — there’s a fine line between following someone and following them — and the benefits of keeping some information private, as Taylor’s artist husband (Wyatt Russell) does despite being mocked for it.
“Ingrid Goes West” is a bit of an update on “Single White Female” — the movie is even referenced in the script by director Matt Spicer and co-writer David Branson Smith — as Ingrid patterns her life after Taylor’s and eventually works her way into Taylor’s inner circle. But the film only rarely comes across as threatening, thanks to some stellar comic performances from Plaza, Olsen and, as Ingrid’s Batman-obsessed landlord, “Straight Outta Compton’s” O’Shea Jackson Jr.
“Newness,” meanwhile, follows pharmacist Martin (Hoult) and physical therapy assistant Gabi (Costa), two young Los Angelenos who can’t tear themselves away from the dating app Winx as they seek out as many random hookups as possible.
In fact, they connect on the app in the immediate aftermath of two “dates” — hers successful, his not so much.
Martin and Gabi, though, actually take the time to have some drinks, dance, get to know each other and eat a late dinner — before hooking up . Soon, Martin is asking Gabi to move in with him. Don’t worry, she tells her roommate, “It’s just a ‘soft move.’”
From the “Like Crazy” duo of writer Ben York Jones and director Drake Doremus, “Newness” starts out as though it’s going to be “When Harry Swiped Sally,” with Gubler as Paul, Martin’s married best friend, providing the necessary light touch and the film’s voice of reason.
But then Martin and Gabi start swiping for people for her to go on a date with so he can watch. They eventually start hooking up with other people on the side until she ends up in a real relationship with an older wealthy man (Danny Huston).
Talking with Gubler after the screening, he said he feels as though he knows people like Martin and Gabi, “but I’ve never had a dating app in my life.”
Not that the “Criminal Minds” star would need one at this point.
“I prefer human interaction to machines,” he said. “I just don’t understand technology, and I don’t think I ever will. I kind of missed the boat.”
Besides, Gubler joked, “I think the internet is a fad. Quote me on that.”
Contact Christopher Lawrence at email@example.com. On Twitter: @life_onthecouch.