Director: John Patton Ford
Writer: John Patton Ford
Starring: Aubrey Plaza, Theo Rossi, Megalyn Echikunwoke, Gina Gershon
John Patton Ford’s feautre length debut as writer/director is Emily the Criminal, a smart and gripping crime thriller. Aubrey Plaza produces and stars as Emily, who is struggling to find work after being convicted for assault and with looming student debts above her head, turns to illegal means to make ends meat. She meets Youcef (Theo Rossi) who teaches her how to commit Credit Card fraud and quickly falls for the criminal.
Aubrey Plaza is really great as Emily, completely believable as someone who doesn’t take nonsense from others. She’s a strong willed character, and is really well written. With how she’s struggling, you do root for her, but the darkness boiling underneath the surface does show at points and you can imagine she’d be very scary if she needed to be. The full details of her assault charge aren’t given, but you know enough to know she doesn’t regret what happened, just that she didn’t scare him enough so that he didn’t call the police.
On the other hand Youcef is a little weaker. He’s a likable charcter, and Rossi has great chemistry with Plaza, but his character is essentially a thief with a heart of gold. If people don’t want to break the law, he lets them leave. He teaches Emily what he knows, even though he barely knows her. He cares deeply about his mother, promising to make enough money to give her a better life. It’s all a little too good to be true, and you’re waiting for some reveal to happen.
All the way through you’re waiting for Emily to get into trouble, either with the law or other criminals. There’s conflict at the centre of the story, but it’s not really Emily’s. Writer and director John Patton Ford manages to side-step most of the cliches and give us a story that subverts expectations and genuinely surprises. It’s still very tense, especially when Emily is committing fraud, and you’re constantly on the edge of your seat waiting for what happens next.
Two of the best scenes in the film aren’t even about fraud. They’re where Emily is in job interviews, saying what everyone’s wanted to say to during interviews. There’s a bit of social commentary through snarky comments about internships and honesty that feel really genuine. It’s also commenting on the amount of graduates who are over qualified but still end up in dead-end jobs while trying to pay back student debts, unable to make the most out of their education. It’s not the full focus of the film, but it’s definitely there.
The film has a runtime of around ninety minutes, which makes the whole thing fly by.
It does feel like the story could do with a little more room to breathe. Early on there’s a moment when Youcef tells Emily some rules, saying that she shouldn’t commit fraud on the same place in a week, and never complete a deal at her house. Obviously those things happen, but it’s so quick from when her success starts. It feels like we’re skipping a few steps to get to the dramatic moments, and it loses the natural flow. There’s also very little consequences for breaking the rules. When she completes a deal outside her house, she gets robbed it’s a really tense and brutal scene, but she takes it all back from the robbers moments later, and it’s not mentioned again.
With a great performance from Aubrey Plaza, and some gripping and tense scenes, Emily the Criminal is an all round entertaining film. It subverts expectations and while it does feel a little contrived at points it still has you hooked.
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