“Down on her luck and saddled with debt, Emily gets involved in a credit card scam that pulls her into the criminal underworld of Los Angeles, ultimately leading to deadly consequences.”

Director: John Patton Ford
Writer: John Patton Ford
Staring: Aubrey Plaza, Theo Rossi
Rated: R
Release Date: August 12, 2022

Right from the opening jump, Emily The Criminal lets you know exactly who and what this story is about. The audience meets Emily (Aubrey Plaze) in the middle of a job interview where she is being asked about some past criminal instances on her permanent record. Emily doesn’t enjoy being put on the spot and she makes it a point to curse out her could-be-employer when walking out the door.

That is Emily. She is a take no prisoners women whose all-or-nothing personality is being shackled by exuberant amounts of student debt. Emily is working a dead end job at a catering service just trying to make ends meet, but times are getting more desperate with the day.

The New Jersey native is grasping for money any chance she can, so when she gets a hookup from a coworker to this shady “dummy shopper” side job involving stolen credit cards, she feels a criminal compulsion to give it a go. Emily is immediately different than all the other participants going through orientation because she is asking questions and not strictly complying with what Youcef (Theo Rossi) is asking.

Youcef is the man running this credit card scam. He is a charismatic quiet man who commands attention not with screaming or intimidation, but rather with his hidden ethos of compassion and drive. Emily begins to see this side of Youcef and she begins working with him more-and-more, and eventually the two become something of a thing, but not utterly definable.

Emily The Criminal tells a story of love, in a way. It puts Youcef and Emily in the square circle, but all the spectators know the real fight is with the corner motivators pushing each character to go forward. Youcef wants the money to but new living accommodations for his family and himself. A fine and noble goal. Emily on the other hand is not being seduced into the world of criminality for the betterment of others, but rather for herself and her greed. The quick thrills of swiping a TV, then a car, then a giant loot of actual cash all compound together like an adrenalin drug. A drug that acts as a mirage to hide many of the troubles that still plague her every day life.

Theor Rossi as Youcef

I think it is fair to say that this is Aubrey Plaza’s best acting thus far in her career? I have not seen everything Plaza has been in, but Emily The Criminal is running against only one other movie in terms of a heat check. Do you remember Happiest Season (2020)? The holiday romantic comedy on Hulu that starred a ton of recognizable faces like Kristen Stewart, Mackenzie Davis (Station Eleven), Allison Brie, and Aubrey Plaza. Playing the part of Riley Johnson, Plaza was only in Happiest Season for a few moments, but her conversations with Abby (Kristen Stewart) still stick in my memory.

Getting back to the movie at hand.

Emily The Criminal pins its success on Plaza as its top performer, and on that bet the filmmakers take the pot. The character of Emily wants to take what she deserves, and Plaza’s best moment comes when she has to decide whether or not to dive into the messy criminal underworld with both feet. We aren’t talking about when Youcef gives her the tech to make fake credit cards. What we are talking about is when she is robbed at her home by a slippery buyer who trailed her home. Emily gets pinned to the ground and threatened with a box cutter. She loses $15,000 dollars and has had her personal space violated. How will she respond to this trauma?

There is little to now hesitation in Emily’s decision making. At her lowest point, Emily continues to fight. She gets up off her floor, goes outside, and confronts her assailant with brutal confidence. After she is threatened to be quiet by said robber, she flips the script and becomes the scary one. Emily is acting like Marlo Stanfield on the corner; don’t fuck with me because I will fuck you back.

The last movie I saw Theo Rossi in was Escape The Field (2022), which was a horrendous piece of garbage. Emily The Criminal is more of what I expect for Rossi. He plays Youcef with more fragility than any previews let on. He is in charge of the fraud credit card scheme, but that is not the man he really is. Throughout Emily The Criminal, the audience learns that she is better suited for the lifestyle that Youcef has introduced her too. She is willing to take more drastic steps than him. She is willing to step up and not be stepped on.

Youcef is attracted to this inane “fuck it” attitude in Emily because it is something that he does not have. They work well together because they bounce off of each other, and when he is down at his worst, she is there to provide to pep talk to bring him back up. Now that pep talk may be a bit self serving, but Youcef is blind to this fact, which makes the ending more heartbreaking than just what you see on screen.

Emily is focused on her future and she states in the movie that she wants to travel. She wants to escape the dirty city life that she has been trapped in, unwillingly. Emily The Criminal really hits the chaos of an urban city well and traverses different environments in the city better than I would have expected. According to reports, director and writer John Patton Ford filmed this movie over a very short stretch in the worst parts of Los Angeles. The on site locations do give Emily The Criminal a sense of realism.

I am going to make a really hot take.

Emily The Criminal reminds me a little bit of Uncut Gems (2019). There is a little bit of Safdie Brothers energy in this movie. It is often shot frantically, and there is little exposition to introduce you into the fray. Emily gets herself into deeper and deeper trouble, much like Howard Ratner did. Both characters need a long shot to get back on the good side of life, and each are willing to take that risk. Stress and real-life cringe scenarios make both movies sing. Uncut Gems is able to work more into the story and has an extra oomph to it, but for a first major directorial role, John Patton Ford really kills it.

Emily The Criminal is streaming on Netflix, and I strongly encourage everyone to go and check it out.

STANKO RATING: B+ (4.0/5 Stars)

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