Aubrey Plaza Shines In A Disappointing Debut Crime Thriller From John Patton Ford

Vertical Entertainment

Aubrey Plaza’s Emily is a failed artist working low-paid jobs and dealing with the crippling burden of student loans. A previous criminal charge on her record affects any chance she has of working at well-paid, respected employers despite being a minor charge years ago.

When Emily is offered an opportunity for an extra income, she falls down the rabbit hole of crime. It starts relatively simple. Emily is given a cloned credit card and has to buy a TV and return it to her boss before being paid $200. He will sell the goods, and she can return to another shop and purchase something else.

It’s much easier than the menial delivery driver jobs she had been doing. The opening few minutes do a fantastic job at showcasing just how rough her world is. She becomes close to her new boss Youcef (Theo Rossi), forming a mentorship that soon evolves into more. However, they don’t quite have the chemistry required to make you care about their side plot.

Plaza commands the screen, bringing character to a script that appears to give her little to work with. She is sharp and spiteful, often the cause of her own downfall. Emily is someone we should root for but sadly can’t entirely root for. We see her go through bad interviews, sabotaging them with a spiky attitude and stone-cold appearance. It’s a layered portrayal of the actress who could have easily repeated her well-worn snarky but likable routine.

All routes appear to lead Emily to crime. She gets bolder in her criminal enterprises and gets just about enough of a backstory that the quick switch makes sense. A scam gone wrong only makes her more resilient. The tough side of Emily slowly comes to the forefront as she navigates LA’s criminal underworld.

Her long-term friend Liz (Megalyn Echikunwoke) only encourages her descent into crime. The pair went to art school together, but Liz appears to have sold out for the corporate world of marketing. No matter how many internships and trendy parties she tries to include Emily into, the ordinary world of corporate jobs is just less appealing than the excitement of a life of crime. 

Vertical Entertainment

Emily the Criminal is a skilfully crafted debut that manages to be an incendiary commentary on capitalism and the millennium post-college experience without diving into satire. It also forces audiences to wonder whether a life of petty card theft is any worse than free internships, zero-hour contracts and the lack of employee rights. The film is a pretty accurate yet subdued portrayal of the work-life many people face worldwide.

Emily the Criminal is also a deftly made crime thriller. Bierman’s cinematography smartly amps up the tension with close-ups of Plaza’s harrowing face as the action unfolds. The car chases through dimly lit LA are reminiscent of 2011’s Drive, showcasing Plaza’s skill as an action star. Nathan Halpern’s score echoes through the drama, choosing a nervy and thriller soundtrack in favour of a likable jukebox of popular tracks.

Written and directed by newcomer John Patton Ford, Emily The Criminal takes a character and a situation many audience members will connect with and throws it away in favour of a generic indie crime finale. The set-up and the lead performance promise far more than the ending of this crime thriller can actually deliver.

Emily The Criminal opened in theatres on August 12

by Amelia Harvey

Amelia is a freelance writer, frustrated novelist and occasional wrangling of international students. She is especially interested in LBGTQ culture and 1960s and 70s music. She also writes for Frame Rated, The People’s Movies and Unkempt Magazine, amongst others. Her favourite films include Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind, Moulin Rouge and Closer. You can find her on Twitter @MissAmeliaNancy and letterboxd @amelianancy

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