Sundance 2022: Emily the Criminal Complete Movie Review

Sundance 2022: Emily The Criminal Complete Movie Review
Sundance 2022: Emily the Criminal Complete Movie Review

Emily The Criminal 2022 Complete Movie Review: “You are a very bad influence.”  Who says this line, why and when is a testament to the power of “Emily the Criminal,” written and directed by John Patton Ford and starring Aubrey Plaza.  The film plays like a bat out of hell, all adrenaline, similar to the Safdie brothers’ recent “Good Time,” though “Emily the Criminal” is more basic and direct in its style.  The film’s view of the “land of opportunity” couldn’t be more cynical.  This is John Patton Ford’s directorial debut, and it’s an extremely impressive piece of work.

Emily is a specific person, but she also represents the particular struggles of her generation.  She went to expensive art school, graduating with a degree in portraiture and a mountain of debt.  There is no way she can pay it back, neither the interest nor the principal.  Emily has a record.  There was a DUI in college.  There was also an arrest for assault.  This means she can’t pass a background check, a hurdle when applying for “real” jobs.  She works for a Grub Hub type company as a contractor (they can cut her hours without notice and she has no recourse).  She carries lasagna to the gleaming corporate offices, where women in tailored suits mill around waiting for her to finish.  She is offered a promising internship, but the internship is, of course, unpaid.  She can’t go without pay for five months.  Who can she?  Emily is trapped.  That is, until a coworker introduces her to the world of credit card fraud.

A group of people gather in a warehouse and are guided through the process by Youcef (Theo Rossi), who says from the start that what they’re doing is illegal (but safe), and if someone doesn’t feel comfortable, that’s fine. let them take it away get up and go.  His demeanor is calm and friendly and inspires confidence.  Emily receives a fake license, a fake credit card, and instructions on what to buy to resell on the black market.  Later, when Emily catches up, Youcef gives her a taser to ward off her and a burner phone.  He shows you how to make credit cards.  She “takes” this.  Money is addictive.  The thought of getting out of debt is an overwhelming incentive.  Emily’s art school friend Liz (Megalyn Echikunwoke) keeps tossing around the possibility of recommending Emily for a job as a graphic designer at her advertising agency, highlighting the huge gulf between the two’s circumstances. friends.  (Liz, sent to Portugal on business, complains to Emily: “It’s only 11 days.” Alone!)

As the jobs get riskier and riskier, Emily’s true nature kicks in, recalling the opening scene where Emily turns around a failed job interview.  She never plays defense.  She goes on the offensive as fast as possible.  She thinks about her feet.  When she decides to fight back, she can be quite terrifying.  She likes Youcef, an immigrant from Lebanon with dreams, things she is saving for.  Youcef likes it too.  The credit card fraud aspect of “Emily the Criminal” is riveting, a deep dive into the world of “dummy shopping,” but what sets the film alight overall is Aubrey’s unpredictable and often thrilling performance. Square.

Plaza “rose” through the comedy world, proving a point I once made in an article for Film Comment about the dramatic gifts of actors known primarily for comedy (people like Barbara Harris, Catherine O’Hara, Madeline Khan).  Square is a wild card.  She takes risks.  Her deadpan expression can be hilarious, but she can also be unsettling.  She changes it depending on the context of the story.  Her performances in “Ingrid Goes West” and “Black Bear” show her willingness to travel into very dark waters, as well as her willingness to play “unpleasant” or at least “difficult” characters.  Like Kristen Wiig, Plaza has created her own space to operate. She doesn’t seem to be beholden to the industry and the demands of her like other more conventional actresses do. She feels free enough to produce something like “Emily the Criminal,” dedicating herself to a first-time director. This speaks to her belief in the project and also what interests her as an actress. This is not ingratiating material, and she is not “ingratiating” on it.

Women don’t usually play antiheroes.  This is the territory of 1970s cinema, all those great movies dipped in the underbelly of the failed American dream. Emily is not a character that you get attached to, but she is a character that you can’t help but root for. Youcef and Emily’s bond is an interesting one, made possible by the genuine chemistry between Plaza and Rossi.  In a different world, in a different time, “Emily the Criminal” might as well have been a romantic drama, akin to Jacques Audiard’s “Rust and Bone,” blending romance, criminality, class division, and moral/ethical dilemmas.  But “Emily the Criminal” takes place at a time that is too urgent and too dark.  Things are serious. The system, as they say, is rigged. Emily wastes no time with moral qualms. As she says, glowing with rage, “The motherfuckers will keep taking you until you make the fucking rules yourself.” She means what she says.


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