Aubrey Plaza is best known for her comedic roles. After earning acclaim as the deadpan April Ludgate in Parks and Recreation, Plaza has since tickled us in movies such as The Little Hours, Life After Beth, and the darkly comic (but bloody brilliant) Ingrid Goes West. More recently her roles have gotten darker with the stunning Black Bear and this indie outing Emily the Criminal.
Directed and written by John Patton Ford, Emily the Criminal revolves around the titular character who, after an unknown criminal conviction, struggles to find a good job – scraping by as an independent contracted delivery driver. With mountains of debt, she is persuaded by a colleague to take on a somewhat illegal job committing credit card fraud.
Plaza gives an astonishing performance as Emily. She wears the frustrations on her face whilst never openly revealing the true make-up of Emily’s character. She skilfully reveals this darker nature over the course of the film, right up until the film’s riveting finale. Each moment Emily is on screen, she makes physical choices that make your toes curl but in a completely engrossing way that you watch through your fingers. Plaza grounds Emily with a realism that makes you empathise with the journey, though you may not agree with everything she does. From the opening scene you are hooked on Plaza’s performance, and it only gets better from there..
Plus her chemistry with Theo Rossi is unbelievably good that, at one point, I cheered as though I were watching a Rom-Com.
John Patton Ford directs a taut thriller. Pulling his inspiration from Jacques Audiard, he captures the grim underbelly of Los Angeles, far away from the glittering Beverley Hills. The heat of city adds a layer of stench and grime to the whole story. In tight close-up shots, the sweat and blood of Emily’s journey is showcased in this low budget but brilliant thriller.
The biggest problem with Emily the Criminal is that it circles around a much larger issue without delving deeper into the nuances of Emily’s job situation. Though one can appreciate its divergence into a thrilling anti-hero character study, it only skims the somewhat insidious nature of the modern-day gig economy. Which is a shame because when Emily confronts these issues – the scenes are glorious, especially for anyone who has wanted to tell an unpaid internship employer to “fuck off.”
Still Emily the Criminal is worth your time. If not just got the suspenseful script but for Plaza’s best performance to date.