Emily the Criminal review: a terrible crime drama gives her Aubrey Plaza

This review was originally posted with Crime Emilywas out in theaters. It has been updated and reposted to release the film on VOD and Netflix platforms.

In America in 2022, despair is normal. Rich-poor inequality is worse than ever, and wages aren’t keeping up with inflation, so in essence, if you’re not coming from money, you’re damned. Average millennium owed $28,317, and most of them have climbed steeply on a sandy mountain during their career lives. Corporations don’t pay taxes, and neither do the very rich. So what’s the big deal if the rest of us bend the rules a bit?

This intriguing question is at the heart of the horror film Crime Emily, the directorial debut of writer and director John Patton Ford. Set in Los Angeles, the gritty streets that celebrities try not to look out of their limousine windows, the film derives much realism from its nuanced depiction of the web of inequality. , institutional obstacles and simple rudimentary arrangements trap the protagonist. The rest comes from Aubrey Plaza’s main performance, going from being enthralled and defeated to ferocious and unacceptable as her character descends into the criminal underworld.

Not that she is a role model. Emily (Plaza) is better off than some: She has a car and a relatively stable housing situation, leaving extremely angry roommates aside. In other ways, she’s at a disadvantage and has little hope that her tired, frustrating life will get better. She is drowning in $70,000 in student debt, and the money she diligently earns is barely enough to pay her monthly interest. To make those payments, she works long shifts to split pre-served lunches for a delivery app, pulling giant insulated bags of salad and pasta to deliver to people white-collar workers who always looked at her with disdain and disgust — when they looked at her completely.

Aubrey Plaza as Emily stands by the trunk of her car, staring at a potential buyer in Emily the Criminal

Image: Vertical entertainment

She’ll get a better job, like her wealthy ad agency friend Liz (Megalyn Echikunwoke), but her past DUI and aggravated assault have haunted and held her back. That was a long time ago, but it didn’t seem to matter; In the film’s striking opening scene, the camera pans to Plaza’s face at a job interview, anger boiling inside her when a smug hiring manager catches her lying about her job. red flags during her background check.

Does Emily’s temper and decision to attend art school instead of an accounting degree mean she deserves to be a financial slave for the rest of her life? She doesn’t think so. Her colleague Javier (Bernardo Badillo) also seems to feel sorry for her, and texts Emily a phone number to find a job where she can make $200 in an hour without any Make a question. That “work” ended up being a credit card scam in which Emily acted as a fake shopper using stolen card numbers to buy expensive consumer goods that Youcef (Theo Rossi), the informal leader of the operation, which can later profit.

After overcoming her fear of being caught, Emily becomes adept at credit card fraud. And after she was paid $2,000 for a sports car with a fake card, she decided this is how she will break out of the vicious circle she’s stuck in and eventually move forward in this world. Her sexual tension with Youcef, who even invites Emily to a family dinner to see his mother, adds another layer of excitement to her new life. And when she started to grow old enough to attract the attention of other less-than-sane auctioneers, she found she also had a knack for violence.

Ford’s color palette for this film — an industrial combination of gunmetal gray and navy blue reminiscent of glass skyscrapers on a cloudy day — is reminiscent of classic crime movies. Michael Mann Heat. And the unscrupulous Emily would fit right into Mann’s list of tough experts. Like James Caan in thief, she’s good at what she does. But unlike Caan’s disillusioned safe-breaker, her criminal career is just beginning, and the rush to realize that she do has what it takes to be both enjoyable and valuable for a character who previously felt life had nothing to offer her but toil and debt. The difference here is, Michael Mann has never written such a compelling female role.

Plaza was also a producer on criminal Emily, and the film is the latest in a series of projects where she has proven that her abilities as an actress go beyond rolling her eyes and making sarcastic comments. (She also excelled in the 2020 horror drama Black bear.) As a crime thriller, Crime Emily Well-written and engagingly paced, but it’s Plaza’s brave work that makes it so memorable. She has a talent for playing fickle characters in a way that’s both sympathetic and a little scary, and that balance is exactly what’s needed to make Emily a thoughtful woman at a debt-ridden age. substance, rather than a simple cautionary tale.

Crime Emily Currently streaming on Netflix and available for digital rental on Amazon, vuduand other platforms.

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