Emily the Criminal

August 12th, 2022




AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 3 ½ STARS (Out of 4)

Quite possibly the biggest surprise in cinema is that Aubrey Plaza has become a force of performance power, the actor that was once the grumpy faced comedian from Funny People, or the hilariously sarcastic employee on Parks and Recreation, has turned herself into a must-have actor…and I am entirely here for it. Her dramatic turn in Emily the Criminal is enthralling, at the front of a blistering story of desperation, and a fantastic directorial debut from John Patton Ford. Emily the Criminal is an intense experience and an introspective look at the way forgiveness is never given, no matter how much you repent.

Plaza is the leading Emily, living in Los Angeles, constantly grinding, working for a food plan company, and working as many shifts as she can to pay for her constant debts. What we know is that Emily has a troubled past, a criminal record that has put her behind an eight ball of life, and no matter how hard she tries, she can’t seem to find forgiveness. Job interviews end in rejection, criticism, and judgment. When a co-worker asks for her to cover his shift, he gives her an opportunity to make a quick $200 with a friend, but what it turns out to be is an illegal credit card scam. She enters a store, buys a TV with a phony credit card, brings it out to Youcef (Theo Rossi), and receives her quick cash. That job goes easy, but with each step it becomes more dangerous, and even turns into Emily doing the scheme on her own. The money starts to come in and things look good but when you become relaxed that’s when mistakes are made.

From a dramatic standpoint, Emily the Criminal is superb, building the intensity as the business succeeds, with the threat of danger always looming. The writing and directing from John Patton Ford is rich with subtext about the world we live in, an unforgiving world that refuses to find remorse for anyone’s past, and an argument is made about why a person would find themselves in dire positions. Her relationship with Youcef grows closer, he tells her the tricks, and how to get out when it’s too much, and together they grow closer, two people with dreams beyond the criminal enterprises they run.

The themes that exist in Emily the Criminal are a standard of cinema and they never grow old. From the stories Martin Scorsese tells in Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, or The Irishman, the life of crime is not a choice that is just made. It’s a gradual incline of choices, some that will come back to you, and a last resort, no different if it’s Josh Brolin in No Country For Old Men or what Asghar Farhadi portrays in A Hero. It’s how we the audience find empathy that we are able to understand the difficulties and through Plaza’s excellent performance we stick to her every move.

An interesting fact about Emily the Criminal is that I was close to giving it a 4-star rating and it was the final scene that I didn’t love, a narrative choice that felt unearned, but that’s not something to take away from everything else. I related deeply with this film, where it’s hard to believe that we can ever recover from our past, succeed after mistakes, or a time where we were too naive to make tough choices. And if we take anything away, it’s the rise of Aubrey Plaza, delivering a powerhouse performance, truly committed to her character, and Emily the Criminal is worth the time.



Written by: Leo Brady
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