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August 12, 2022 / Vertical Entertainment

Starring: Aubrey Plaza, Theo Rossi, Gina Gershon, Megalyn Echikunwoke

Directed By: John Patton Ford

Emily (Aubrey Plaza) is saddled with student debt and locked out of the job market due to a minor criminal record. Desperate for income, she takes a shady gig as a “dummy shopper,” buying goods with stolen credit cards supplied by a handsome and charismatic middleman named Youcef (Theo Rossi). Faced with a series of dead-end job interviews, Emily soon finds herself seduced by the quick cash and illicit thrills of black-market capitalism, and increasingly interested in her mentor Youcef. Together, they hatch a plan to bring their business to the next level in Los Angeles.

Written by Darren

Rating 3 out of 5

Emily the Criminal features a truly stellar lead performance from Aubrey Plaza that brings this great little crime thriller to life.

To most audiences, Plaza will always be known as April Ludgate from Parks and Recreation, but ever since her seven season run on the hit NBC sitcom, Plaza has been picking more dramatic roles to differentiate herself from her most famous role. And with the titular role in Emily the Criminal, Plaza delivers one of the best performances of her career.

Emily is a young woman, burdened with student debt and unable to find a good paying job due to her minor criminal record, becomes involved with a credit card scam. As she gets deeper into the credit card scam and the criminal world of Los Angeles, Emily finds herself in deadly circumstances that she needs to escape from.

There is no question that Plaza is the highlight of the film with her gripping portrayal of Emily. Frankly, this might be Plaza’s best dramatic performance to date as she portrays the tough as nails Emily, capturing the struggle and fear she faces as she enters the unknown world of credit card scams. Mostly so in the scene in the first act where she is scamming a car dealer and they figure it out, creating one of the most intense moments of the film thanks to Plaza’s harrowing performance. But over the film, Plaza instills a grit into Emily as she quickly becomes the one calling the shots, delivering a formidable character that you can’t help but root for. There is no doubt her standout moment is the interview scene where the film puts Plaza’s character’s struggle up against one view of what women have to do to succeed in business. It’s an electrifying scene and Plaza truly grips you with her powerful performance, which truly makes you think that one day her name will be thrown around in award races as she is a truly phenomenal actress.

Opposite Plaza is Theo Rossi as Youcef, the young man that draws Emily into the world of credit card scamming. Rossi has the perfect mix of charm and darkness to craft this character that truly cares for Emily, even if he is the one taking her down a dark path. Together, Plaza and Rossi create a truly unhealthy relationship between their characters.

The writing for the film isn’t bad, it has all the right elements to bring to life the filmmakers set out to make. But, it feels like there are missing pieces to the puzzle. We get very little information on Emily’s past or who she is as an individual outside of the scamming events, which leaves lots unknown about her that makes it hard to connect with her character. The film also seems to jump through the events quickly, causing the second act to feel rushed as Emily is quickly established as a scam artist and begins setting up the final act before you can fully grasp the transformation Emily has undergone in a blink of an eye. Part of the problem is the film’s short runtime, that with an extra five or ten minutes could have allowed the story and character of Emily to develop further.

But the gripping final act makes you forget about the narrative missteps, as the film wraps up in the perfect way for Emily’s character. While it’s not destined to be named as one of the greatest crime thrillers ever made, there is something undeniably intriguing about Emily the Criminal that despite some narrative shortfalls that needed more exploration, is well worth your time due to an excellent lead performance from Aubrey Plaza.

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