Aubrey Plaza gives the best performances of her career in Emily the Criminal, a slick, tough L.A. crime movie with shades of a Michael Mann movie.
Plaza plays Emily, a woman living in Los Angeles strapped with a mountain of student debt. Unable to break into the job market because of her slight criminal record, Emily tries to make money working for a catering company where she is miserable. In a feat of desperation, Emily finds a sketchy side-job as a “dummy shopper” where she would buy specific items with stolen credit cards supplied by Youcef (Theo Rossi). After a few trips as a dummy shopper, Emily becomes addicted to the money she is making and the thrill of the jobs, which only takes her deeper down the black market crime hole.
Aubrey Plaza established her name in the comedy with roles in Funny People, Park and Recreation, and Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates. But recently, with films like Ingrid Goes West, Black Bear, and Happiest Season, Plaza has started to show flashes of her dramatic side. With Emily the Criminal, Plaza gives her most dramatic performance and best performance to date. From the opening scene, where Emily is being interviewed by a smarmy hiring manager, you can tell that this is a Plaza we’ve never seen before. Emily is a victim of an unfair system and Plaza wears her frustration and anger while also conveying Emily’s intelligence and craftiness. Plaza really shines once Emily immerses herself in the criminal game, showing Emily as a tough and confident con artist and fighting for what she believes is hers. Plaza is brilliant and I hope she does more dramatic roles in the future.
Emily the Criminal marks the feature directorial debut of John Patton Ford, yet the film feels like it was made by a seasoned pro. This is a tight and gripping crime thriller that reminded me of Michael Mann movies like Collateral. This is an L.A. crime story about a person with their back against the wall and them taking their life into their own hands, though it takes them deeper than they ever expected. Emily the Criminal also looks at themes about student debt, the current state of getting a job, life for people with criminal records. It gets a little muddled in the middle when Emily and Youcef become closer than just employer and employee, but the film’s plot is tightly constructed and the final act of the movie is nerve-wracking, filled with expertly crafted moments that will have you on the edge of your seat.
Emily the Criminal is a smart, gripping crime drama that is filled with relevant themes, a strong plot and a career-best Aubrey Plaza.
Emily the Criminal premiered in the PREMIERES section of the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.
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