'Emily The Criminal' Review: Aubrey Plaza Attacks Student Debt With Scams
Be poor, do crime. Wait hold up, don't actually take that advice, we would never encourage you to cheat a system that is cheating you, of course. Instead you can just watch and experience small-scale action in director-writer John Patton Ford's feature debut Emily The Criminal, a drama thriller about a woman challenging the American economy in their own small bubble. That woman is in fact Emily featured in the title, as played by Aubrey Plaza, who's working a low-paying job after having been drowned in student debt and getting an assault charge on her record. She then sees an opening to make more money when she gets recruited first as a ''dummy shopper'' by local criminal Youcef (Theo Rossi), leading the two to work together on increasingly more lucrative scams as their relationship develops.
What really is the most notable thing about the film is how well it performs as a first feature with a somewhat low budget, and how that is essentially tied with what its main character is going through as well. It captures a particular financial panic in the lives of American millennials and zoomers right now, which creates enough relatability to make the main story feel so consequential that you can make a well-paced, 90-minute movie about it. Following action then feels realistic and feasible for what we know about the characters, and it doesn't make the ''villains'' of the movie any less human because they're trying to do their best in the very same bleak situation (excluding some shots taken at an executive that make her rightfully villainous).
There's also clear care in the way that Emily's life and personality is crafted, and how that personality makes sense with equally well-rounded Youcef, making that relationship a driving force behind their efforts to make something out of nothing. It certainly does help when you have a lead actor like Plaza who also can make something out of nothing, whether that's her subtle humour or dramatic efforts like when Emily faces a more dangerous confrontation during one of their scams. That's a true superpower when Ford may have been (and to be fair, clearly has been) forced to sacrifice some cinematic qualities due to budget in terms of visuals and sound, where composer Nathan Halpern's score is admirably doing its best to amp up the thrills.
Smileys: Story, Aubrey Plaza, characterisation
Frowneys: Nothing too disappointing
Call her Emily Wick the way she reacts to dognapping.