Emily the Criminal

Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5

Emily the Criminal
dir-scr John Patton Ford
prd Tyler Davidson, Aubrey Plaza, Drew Sykes
with Aubrey Plaza, Theo Rossi, Megalyn Echikunwoke, Gina Gershon, Jonathan Avigdori, Bernardo Badillo, Tomas Pais, Sheila Korsi, Janice Sonia Lee, Wesley Han, Brandon Sklenar, Kimiko Singer
release US 12.Aug.22,
UK 28.Oct.22
22/US 1h37

plaza rossi gershon
london film fest

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plaza and rossi
There's a serious theme running through this engaging drama set in the criminal underworld of Los Angeles. Writer-director John Patton Ford cleverly pulls the audience in along with a hugely engaging central character adeptly played by Aubrey Plaza. It's a bracing look at a society that makes it almost impossible for someone to escape their past. So even as it dips into several thriller cliches, it remains gripping.
Because she has an assault charge on her record, Emily (Plaza) is unable to apply for steady work that will help her pay off her art school loans. While working a part-time catering job, she's introduced to Youcef (Rossi), who invites her to join a stolen credit card scam. The initiation task is nerve-wracking, but it pays very well. Then she learns how much Youcef is making and thinks maybe she's found the solution to her problem. She's also a quick learner. But this is a dangerous business, and she faces some intensely nasty challenges.
Shot in a gritty style that emphasises the shadier aspects of the narrative, the script has a refreshing earthiness that stirs real-life humour into offhanded interaction. Emily's sardonic sense of humour makes her attractive to the people she meets, so she seems ideally suited for this kind of work. The main question is whether Emily will leave this illicit profession once she gets back on her feet. Or perhaps the script will push her into even bigger, more perilous directions.

Plaza is always great at layering aspects of her characters, and Emily is an extraordinarily complex young woman. She's smart and witty, but she has impulse-control issues. And this work requires maintaining a clear head and thinking quickly under the worst kind of pressure. She's also going to need to discover untapped resources of resilience. Rossi has terrific presence as a guy drawn into her orbit, and vice versa, as does Echikunwoke as her oblivious childhood friend Liz, who is living the dream they once shared.

Emily's situation is brutally simple: her criminal past prevents her from working honestly, and her only recourse is to turn to crime to pay back her student debt. Ford's screenplay doesn't belabour this point, but the implications are strong. More problematic is the rather standard criminal story trajectory, which takes some turns that make us want to shout at the screen: "You've seen this in a million movies: don't do it!" Even so, Plaza sells the character right to the sweat-inducing final act.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 10.Oct.22

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© 2022 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall