Emily the Criminal review: Aubrey Plaza, gig economy outlaw

Crime thrillers love to emphasize that crime doesn’t pay, which is rich enough because staying on the straight and narrow isn’t exactly lucrative either. While so many of those glorified Old Testament cautionary tales postulate that dollar sign greed over the eyes is the motive for jumping into the choppy waters of unlawful transgression, anyone who simply tries to get by in the rigged system of American capitalism might draw a different conclusion. Why play by the rules when the only way to win – or maybe even to survive – is to break them?

This is the question asked, early and often, by the main character of Criminal Emily, an economic gig-economy noir from writer-director John Patton Ford. Emily (Aubrey Plaza, reliable and superbly barbed) has been out of college for a few years and buried in student debt of $75,000. Early on, she calls the loan office to find out why a recent payment isn’t showing up on her statement. Turns out he went all the way to the interest, not the main one. It’s a scene guaranteed to inspire mass chills of traumatic recognition from an audience very familiar with Sisyphus’ ordeal of repaying predatory moneylenders.

Aubrey Plaza points to her characteristic hostility with sympathetic weariness.

Emily, a graphic designer by training but not by trade, has a few crimes under her belt — early mistakes that ended her college education and left her largely unemployable. To make ends meet, she works long hours for low pay as an independent entrepreneur in a restaurant business. Plaza has played more than her share of tough, petulant, and ruthless clients, but here she points to her signature hostility with sympathetic weariness: Faced with a future clouded by insurmountable financial obligations, Emily has hardened herself into a classic anti-heroine. ‘Aubrey Plaza, with no savings let alone fuck to give.

In fact, Emily’s career prospects are so dim that when a co-worker tells her about the opportunity to earn a quick $200 tax-free, she barely hesitates to follow suit. This is his introduction to the anarchic world of “dummy shopping”, a scam that involves using stolen credit card information to buy expensive items from stores so they can then be returned to the streets. The operation is led by the cold-blooded Youcef (Theo Rossi), who doesn’t so much seduce Emily into a life of crime as he gently opens the door for her. And can we blame him for having taken the plunge? Youcef’s scheme is essentially a fictionalized version of his “legitimate” independent contractor work; it also has no protection in this area, but the schedules are more flexible and the fares much better.

Ford lends this little outlaw milieu an appealing neorealism, both in the scale of the crimes committed and in the observational bob of her handheld camera, which follows Emily through the ins and outs of an empire of larceny and identity. flight. The film flirts with a Scorsesian procedural interest, but there aren’t a lot of conspiratorial details to obsess over here – Youcef’s organized crime mechanics are almost comically plain and simple. They do, however, lend themselves to some crackerjack suspense sequences, like when Emily has to finish shopping for a sports car and get away in just eight minutes before her credit card is stolen, or heartbreaking her home invasion she invites when she agrees to meet buyers too close to her apartment.

Emily’s journey of breaking the law has the specificity and banality of a story pulled from the headlines.

Outdated flip phones located Criminal Emily in the unspecified recent past – just one element that gives the film the deceptive true-crime vibe, when in fact it’s an entirely fictional concoction. Seriously, it’s almost hard to believe that all of this isn’t adapted from a magazine article. Emily’s journey of breaking the law has the specificity and banality of a story pulled from the headlines. It also slips, unfortunately, in its second half into the genre of generically “urgent” melodrama scriptwriters who will often dictate interesting real-world events that don’t require it. Emily’s eventual romance with Youcef and the story’s ultimate tilt toward backstabbing and violence seem contrived compared to Ford’s more compelling, down-to-earth portrayal of a person. drawn inexorably into a rather unglamorous criminal enterprise.

Graininess veneer aside, Criminal Emily is ultimately something of a fantasy, shrewdly targeted at a debt-ridden graduate workforce, a sluggish job market, and the gamble of tying your future to employers who only see you as a workforce. inexpensive and consumable labor. It is, in other words, a caper for our age of advanced capitalism, free from moralistic twists about the true cost of crime. And in Plaza, he finds the perfect mic for the outrage he channels. His furious outbursts during a pair of job interviews are more than relatable. They are essentially the lamentations of a generation choked on false promises and ready for the desperate measures that our desperate times call for.

Criminal Emily is playing now in select theaters. To learn more about AA Dowd’s writings, please visit his Authory page.

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