Written and directed by John Patton Ford, down on her luck and saddled with debt, Emily gets involved in a credit card scam that pulls her into the criminal underworld of Los Angeles, ultimately leading to deadly consequences. Starring: Aubrey Plaza, Theo Rossi, Jonathan Avigdori, Megalyn Echikunwoke, Bernardo Badillo and Gina Gershon.
Aubrey Plaza has always been devilishly delightful to watch on screen but for many years all her performances existed in the world of comedy, then beginning with Ingrid Goes West, a new side of Plaza’s immense talent appeared. Her performance in Black Bear pushed that even further and now with Emily the Criminal she’s giving us even more variety. She brings a huge relatability to Emily, struggling with money and constantly judged for one moment of her life, beginning in a vulnerable space but we see her adapt and evolve her strength into something more wily and cunning. You could debate whether or not Emily is a good person but she’s not inherently bad, she takes the shitty hand she’s been dealt and decides to look out for herself. It’s a compelling, sharp and witty performance.
The film only then improves when Plaza is paired with Theo Rossi. They’re so well matched both in performance and in the qualities of their characters, constantly battling between vulnerability and strength. Initially Rossi brings an unknown quantity, testing the waters and leaving you figuring out if he’s genuine or not but as time goes on his performance becomes utterly charming and even sweet to a point. Then as the story progresses further, he deepens his performance and brings a surprising amount of emotion. While the entire film has plenty to offer Aubrey Plaza and Theo Rossi are without doubt the biggest draw to Emily the Criminal.
While visually the film plays out much as you’d expect, it’s not overly dark but it definitely brings through that sincere edge of danger. It moves with a great pace and John Patton Ford’s directorial style has a nice injection of personality. The story plays out less as you might have predicted, there’s an unusual quality to how it moves and where you think it might end, it has more to say. It goes down some of the typical avenues but it also has a strong comment on today’s workplace and job market, gender inequality and self-protection. It blends its genres extremely well, the balance of drama, thriller and the criminal element is an unexpected mix, choosing not to lean too hard on the thrills and grit but feeding their intensity and tension into the story. It’s a difficult one to describe but put simply, it does things a little differently and has a fresh take on your typical crime drama.
Emily the Criminal gives us yet another excuse to marvel at how much Aubrey Plaza has to offer, that clearly we’ve been missing out on for years. Both Plaza and Theo Rossi bring a huge amount of emotion to these roles, while simultaneously being intense, smart and shrewd. It’s shot well and the story is unexpected, gripping and hugely enjoyable. It’s the sort of film that takes what you think it’s going to be and shakes things up, bringing a new, surprising and entertaining edge.