Director: John Patton Ford
Stars: Aubrey Plaza, Theo Rossi, Bernardo Badillo
When I think of Aubrey Plaza I usually think of her comedic work. How can you not? She’s hilarious and has been gifted with great timing. From Parks and Recreation to her work in Dirty Grandpa she has a knack for the funny. I also think she was exceptional in her turns as host of the Independent Spirit Awards.
I wasn’t prepared for her strong dramatic work in Emily the Criminal but I’m thrilled I had the chance to see it. Debuting at this years Sundance Film Festival the film is about to be released and this reveals a Plaza that shows she can do more than just comedy.
Plaza plays Emily, who represents many people today. She is consumed with financial debt with no relief in sight. She has difficulty getting jobs due to a criminal record. Emily is street smart and knows how to handle herself but unfortunately that skill does very little to endure her to potential employers.
From the opening moments of the film, you realize you aren’t dealing with a funny Aubrey Plaza but this is a dramatic turn. I couldn’t help but think of one of her former co-stars Adam Sandler, who like Plaza, has had multiple projects of making people laugh, but transitioned to drama so effortlessly.
Emily is fielding calls from the credit card company, ‘But I just sent you a payment…..Oh that went to the interest.’ One could draw comparisons to her life and the lives of those taken in by Squid Game. The parallel…. burdened with debt. However, she isn’t being taken to an island to compete in violent games. One of her co-workers puts her in touch with a man named Youcef, played by Theo Rossi. Youcef runs a ‘Dummy Shopping’ ring. She is sent to a store to buy merchandise with a fraudulent credit card and she is paid a few hundred dollars for this. She is reluctant to participate at first but then does. (I mean if she didn’t this movie and review would be pretty short)
After she does, she is hooked. As Emily goes deeper into this world, she gets more and more mixed up with people she may not necessarily want to be in cahoots with. And she gets deeper and deeper into this world.
There is a commentary on how some people feel there is no option and a result they turn to crime. Of course there is always a choice and this film shows that Emily feels she has no choice. The film, in my opinion, isn’t as much as a thesis on the economic hardships of today as much as its story of what someone will do to survive and Emily is a survivor.
The film also displays some exceptional acting by Aubrey Plaza. Yes, there is an entire cast, but the weight of this film lays on her shoulders. A little over halfway through the film she has a moment that defines her performance in the movie. You realize she isn’t to be trifled with and there is no going back.
Similar to how Simon Baker (The Florida Project) shines a light on communities we usually don’t see reflected on screen, John Patton Ford has brought Emily the Criminal to us not as a heroine but to show us what some will do survive. There is that old saying, You find a way or you find an excuse, and Emily makes no excuses.