Emily the Criminal Review

Emily the Criminal was previously reviewed as part of our Sundance 2022 coverage.

PLOT: A woman (Aubrey Plaza) with $75,000 in debt can’t find a well-paying job due to a felony conviction on her record. Desperate for money, she gets sucked into the world of credit card fraud and becomes a criminal.

REVIEW: Aubrey Plaza has never really gotten her due as an actress. Watch her in Parks and Recreation, then in Ingrid Goes West, then in something like Black Bear. Her range is extraordinary. Emily the Criminal is a slick crime thriller that has an excellent chance to break out beyond the indie scene and could maybe give her the A-list status she merits – assuming people see it that is. Hopefully, they do because John Patton Ford’s debut is an absorbing crime drama that evocatively charts a woman’s evolution from put upon wage slave to hardcore criminal. It’s a scathing depiction of how workers are exploited, ex-cons never get the second chance they’ve been promised, and so many industries are predatory with unpaid internships that rarely lead to paying gigs. It’s a distinctly L.A movie in some ways, but the problems Emily deals with here exist everywhere.

Emily the criminal review

Notably, though, Emily is never portrayed as a victim or a hero. While she’s saddled with a lot of unfair baggage, Emily gets reckless with her criminality and starts to revel in the life she’s chosen. In another movie, Theo Rossi, who plays the charming fraudster who recruits her, would be portrayed as the villain. Here, he legitimately cares about her and tries to dissuade her a few times, but she likes the thrill and seems born for it.

Plaza’s tough but vulnerable here, making her a tough anti-hero you can’t help but root for, even if you probably shouldn’t. Many people are comparing this to Drive, but other than the propulsive score (which may be owes a little too much to Chromatics’ “Tick of the Clock”), this is a much lower-key film, although it takes a heavy turn in the climax. Plaza disappears so thoroughly into the part that it’s uncanny. It’s an incredible performance that’s different from anything she’s done before.

Theo Rossi, of Sons of Anarchy fame, also has an excellent role as Youcef, who’s a departure from the usual gangster type. Seemingly kind and soft-spoken, he tells Emily at every juncture that she could stop before she sinks any deeper into the void, but she doesn’t want to. Their relationship evolves to the point that you feel like he’s the one that needs to get away from her to some extent, with her more of a hardcore criminal than he can ever be.

It’s a taut tale that does a credible job depicting one woman’s slide into the abyss, with her taking incremental steps that eventually turn her into a hardcore gangster. It’s not a case here of the lifestyle choosing her and in the old cliche, she distinctly chooses it. It’s a terrific movie for debut for Ford, and Plaza has never been better. She’ll soon be digging into her first action role in Guy Richie’s Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre and seems well on her way to becoming a formidable big-screen badass.


About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.