Denied a UK cinema release following its showing at LFF last year, John Patton Ford’s thrilling and timely debut is now available on Blu-ray and DVD. Starring Aubrey Plaza and Theo Rossi, ‘Emily the Criminal’ takes no prisoners in its vivid depiction of the gig economy, and life on the fringes of American society.
Plaza is Emily, who we first meet in an excruciating job interview. It seems to be going well until the interviewer gets to her criminal record. A minor misdemeanour from her past that will stay on her record forever, and result in meaningful employment always being slightly out of her reach. She is saddled with student debt, and stuck in a crushing gig economy catering job which barely covers the interest on her loan. In what seems like a well worn routine, she storms out and tells the interviewer where to go.
When a co-worker hands her a phone number to earn a bit of extra cash, she takes the plunge and finds herself in the middle of a sophisticated credit card fraud run by Youcef (Rossi) and his cousin Khalil. She has a knack for the scam, and encourages Youcef to involve her in more lucrative, and dangerous jobs. He duly obliges.
There’s a confident and intelligent stylistic choice by the director not to trivialise Emily’s descent into a life of crime with fun montages and snazzy visuals. Ford instead keeps it grounded and terrifying, as it should be whilst we’re watching someone’s life spiral out of control. A car purchase with a stolen credit card is played out in almost real time and is so low-key stressful it will leave you chewing your nails off. A stolen goods sale that goes wrong explodes into violence, and changes Emily forever.
Building on her increasingly impressive post ‘Parks and Recreation’ filmography, Aubrey Plaza delivers yet another terrific and nuanced performance. Emily is spiky, not always likeable, and makes increasingly bad choices, but Plaza makes it absolutely impossible for you not to be on her side. Watching her in this film I was reminded of the brilliant Julianne Nicholson in the little seen ‘Who We Are Now’, a film which also examined the rigged system which people must fight against when there’s a past indiscretion on their record.
Existing somewhere between ‘Uncut Gems’ and ‘Nomadland’, ‘Emily the Criminal’ is a tense and energetic thriller, as well as being a vivid social commentary of life on the margins. John Patton Ford has definitely announced himself as a filmmaker to watch, but it’s Plaza’s fierce performance that will stay with you long after the credits have rolled.
The one downside is the Blu-ray itself, which sadly only comes with the theatrical trailer.
Cast: Aubrey Plaza, Theo Rossi, Megalyn Echikunwoke, Jonathan Avigdori Director: John Patton Ford Writer: John Patton Ford Released By: Mediumrare Entertainment Certificate: 15 Duration: 93 mins Release Date: 16th January 2023