Emily the Criminal. 2022
Written and Directed by John Patton Ford.
Starring Aubrey Plaza, Theo Rossi, Gina Gershon, Megalyn Echikunwoke, Jonathan Avigdori, Bernardo Badillo, Craig Stark, and Brandon Sklenar.
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.
There’s a point in Emily the Criminal where the eponymous Emily (unsuspected of being a criminal and played by Aubrey Plaza with necessary grit, fearlessness, and uncompromising resolve) is encouraged and told she could be anything in life. Except that’s not true. There can be no, say, Emily, the Teacher because Emily is working dead-end jobs while crushed in bills and student loan payments. She also has a mild criminal record that causes skepticism and outright rejection during job interviews. For some people, crime is a necessity, as rough and wrong as that may sound.
Fortunately, Emily lucks into an opportunity to make some money by working with Lebanese credit card fraudsters specializing in passing out fake cards for people to make purchases (pricey items such as fancy HHDTVs to bring them back for a small cut of the money to be made from reselling. Some candidates balk and leave this secret hideout even though they are assured that no one gets hurt and no one will be in danger, while Emily desperately takes a crack at it. Unsurprisingly, she proves to be successful, which causes leader Youcef (Sons of Anarchy’s Theo Rossi effectively walking the line between sure of himself but not as crazily determined as Emily) to take notice and pitch her more lucrative and challenging jobs.
Not only does danger present itself in the form of violent men while collecting the goods, but Emily also faces a choice thanks to her friend Liz (Megalyn Echikunwoke) about a position opening up in the office building she works at. And while Emily the Criminal certainly follows a template, there were one or two surprises along the way, reinforcing the notion that the deck is stacked against Emily if she wants to eradicate her debt legally. Such haste also means Emily starts disobeying some of the most important goals of this credit card fraud scheme, spelling bad business for all involved.
At a short 90 minutes, Emily the Criminal is a suspenseful and riveting watch, although one that doesn’t necessarily make the most of its shaky-cam energy and poignant themes. It also wants to be somewhat of a love story as Emily and Youcef grow closer to one another, especially as she realizes he has noble intentions with the money he is making. The issue is that neither of these threads realizes their full potential. That’s not the say the story is scattered, as all the necessary parts are here. It’s also not to say that writer and director John Patton Ford (this marks his directorial debut) is ineffective, just that it’s not as fully formed as it should be.
Still, Aubrey Plaza brings a transfixing ferocity Emily the Criminal that is hard to look away from, even when everything around Emily as a character feels underdeveloped. Naturally, the rookie criminal becomes the hungriest criminal, with her mistakes resulting in superbly crafted tense sequences placing her in peril. None of it deters her; she’s determined to take it all. Every step of the way, somehow, it feels right to be on her side.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com