EMILY THE CRIMINAL

Updated: Sep 6

Review by

John Larkin


I was dubious going in that I would enjoy this film mostly because of the title and poster. It's very basic straightforwardness leaves nothing to the imagination to wonder about. Fortunately neither reflect the quality of the film which turned out to be much higher caliber than I expected.


Aubrey Plaza plays a not-so-recent college grad who's still drowning in student loan debt and having trouble landing a full time gig because of a criminal record caused by one night of drunken and disorderly conduct. She works a soulless job catering corporate meetings while seeking out higher paying positions to try and squash her debt. One day at the catering job she gets some info on a high paying cash gig which turns out to be a job being a "shopper" for a small time crime ring that steals credit card info and purchases high priced items before the cards get cancelled. Emily quickly takes to the gig and begins rising up in the crime ring.


Plaza embodies the character of Emily with an amazing authenticity that in other actresses hands would make some of the story pivots hard to believe. There's a toughness and stubbornness in Emily (and in Plaza) that allows the plots wilder moments to feel realistic and not forced. In the first scene of the film Plaza gets to live out the fantasy of every young job seeker by cursing off the judgmental interviewer for the position and storming out of the office. Emily has a short fuse but she's also smart and fearless. As the story progresses you realize she begins to like the high of what she's doing not unlike Walter White in BREAKING BAD. There's a sequence midway through the film where Emily's guard is down and she leaves herself vulnerable to theft, it's a painful scene to watch and I squirmed in my chair hoping desperately for her to ultimately prevail.


First time writer/director John Patton Ford does a fantastic job crafting a realistic thriller while still taking time to flesh out all the characters so they feel real. Theo Rossi delivers a fantastic supporting turn as the leader of the crime ring who becomes romantically involved with Emily and ends up pursuing more dangerous and intricate crimes with her.


As an art school grad who's still submerged in student loan debt It was easy to empathize with Emily's situation. Before I landed my full time gig I worked countless part-time and freelance jobs that felt soul sucking and conjured up the same types of feelings of frustration that Emily felt. For the record I have nowhere near the thick hide Emily sports that allows her to traverse much darker terrain then I would ever dare venture into for the sake of money.


Plaza's performance is one of my favorite of the year and the film is one of the most riveting and well made that I've watched in theaters in some time.