There’s a lot to like about Matt Spicer’s Sundance darling Ingrid Goes West (now in theaters), a darkly comic tale about an emotionally unstable Instagram obsessive (Aubrey Plaza) who moves to California to insinuate herself into the private life of social media “influencer” Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen) and the rest of her avocado-toast-eating, sunhat-wearing inner circle. Its most unexpected charm, however, comes in the form of O’Shea Jackson Jr.’s affable, grounded love interest Dan Pinto – the closest the film comes to anyone “normal” in the ocean of self-absorbed L.A. millennials Ingrid gloms onto. Both in the film proper, and maybe in our real lives right now, there are few people I’d rather be around than Dan Pinto, Screenwriter.
In a lot of respects, Dan has the most thankless role in any movie: the Nice Guy. For most of the Dan Pintos out there in rom-com cinema, the best they can hope for is to be generally likable (albeit bland) and pick up the pieces of our romantic lead’s many entertaining mistakes for a nice, pat happy ending. Ingrid Goes West, and Dan in particular, is smarter than that: he’s interesting, affable, and offers a genuine counterpoint to Ingrid’s narcissistic journey to fame through notoriety. Being the Nice Guy in a movie like this is often the kiss of death, as nice can easily equate to boring – to our great relief, Dan remains endlessly watchable and magnetic.
Right from his introduction, Dan makes an impression, particularly as a contrast to Ingrid’s own social-media-fueled journey. As Ingrid’s unofficial landlord and neighbor, he stops by, armed with his vape pen and winning smile, and immediately offers her his guest house, business card and, most generous of all, his friendship. Jackson’s effortless charm and charisma don’t fall far from the tree (Ice Cube being his father and all), Dan’s laid-back sense of ease is a refreshing alternative to the cliquish insufferability of Elizabeth Olsen’s Insta-family – while they hoard followers and photos as the sum total of their self-worth, Dan just wants to relax, have fun and vape the day away.
Maybe the most prominent character trait of Dan Pinto is his intense, nearly single-minded love for Batman. Specifically, it seems, the Joel Schumacher version(s) seen in Batman Forever and Batman & Robin – a promotional shirt from Forever is thrown around as a make-up gift from Ingrid to Dan to make up for borrowing (and trashing) his truck, and even his business card is in the pointy block font made famous by those particular movies. Dan’s a Batfan of the highest order, writing Batman fan screenplays and hosting them in his apartment. In lesser hands, such an affectation would make Dan Pinto a one-dimensional goof, but instead it makes him incredibly endearing. (It helps that Jackson himself apparently shares Dan’s love for the Caped Crusader, making his fandom seem even more authentic.) Even his love for the version of Batman most people feel comfortable dismissing speaks volumes to Dan’s identification with misfits and outsiders, and subsequently his attraction to the awkward, unconventional Ingrid.
Everything in Dan’s life is informed by his dedication to the Dark Knight, something which sneakily offers thematic counterpoint to Ingrid’s own quest for identity. In her obsession with the Taylor Sloane crowd, Ingrid dyes her hair to match Taylor’s, adopts her sense of fashion and taste, and generally apes her personality to transform herself into the kind of successful, beautiful person Taylor presents herself to be. Dan obsesses similarly over Batman, but mostly because of how similar they already are to each other: on a date, Dan admits to Ingrid that, like Bruce Wayne, he’s an orphan, and felt that if Batman could rise above that to become something amazing, so can he. (Never mind the millions of dollars Bruce Wayne had to work with, but we’ll let that slide.) It’s an adorably relatable detail to Dan’s fandom that fleshes him out instead of reducing him to a nerdy caricature.
On top of his lack of pretension and his admirable enthusiasm, Dan is just a joy to be around. Jackson’s laid-back performance goes a long way to making Dan lovable and inviting to watch, and it’s unsurprising that he’s inherited his father’s pitch-perfect comic timing. Nowhere is this more evident than when Dan blows up in Ingrid’s face after she lets him down by blowing off his reading (and stealing his truck) to spend time with Taylor: “You’re supposed to be Catwoman, but you’re nothing but Two-Face!” he earnestly shouts at her. Later, during a curiously steamy sex scene where Ingrid gamely performs Catwoman role-play for Dan, he murmurs a line we’ll all permanently work into our sexual playbook: “Tell me Gotham needs me, baby.” Even when not relating his life to Batman, Dan’s patience and concern for Ingrid is heartwarming, even when the obsessive Ingrid can’t see or return it.
It’s a shame the film is a tragedy, because that means we have to spend most of Ingrid’s runtime mentally shouting at the screen: “Why she won’t just accept Dan, he’s basically perfect!” In a film preoccupied with taking potshots at Instagram millennials who feign profundity and style for likes and follows, the thoroughly down-to-earth Dan Pinto is Ingrid Goes West’s secret weapon, and one of the most refreshing movie characters this year. From his warm face to his low-key sense of fashion (Lakers jerseys, simple gold chains) to his adorable love for his favorite superhero, what’s not to like? Dan Pinto may not be the hero Ingrid deserves, but he’s the one we need right now.
Clint Worthington fights for justice in Chicago.