Review: Emily the Criminal is a crackling millennial revenge tale | Movie reviews and news | Saint Louis


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Aubrey Plaza in Criminal Emily.

Endless stores, dirty windshields, parking lots with no shade, stuck elevators, eyebrow scars, crackling fluorescent lights, security fences, empty fridges, cocaine with strangers in bathrooms sweaty.

Criminal Emily may be one of the most honest LA movies — and American movies — of our time, if only for having entirely given up on most of the lies that Hollywood and the mainstream media happily feed us.

The feature debut of writer-director John Patton Ford, the film trades the glamorous trappings of the hills and sands of Malibu for the daily malaise and financial insecurity that plagues a greater portion of the population of the city and our country. No more blown and botoxed glitter; they are replaced by a racially cacophonous band of undocumented citizens and workers jostling to get by. The palm trees barely appear; when they do, they swing towards the asphalt.

Shot on a shoestring budget for three weeks during the pandemic, Criminal Emily follows Emily Bonetto (Aubrey Plaza), an art school graduate who turns to a life of crime to pay off her mounting college debt. With a lively Jersey accent and silver nose stud, Emily scratches as she delivers working lunches to downtown businesses, sketching portraits in her car between shifts. Plaza appears in every scene of this movie – whether it’s carrying vats of pasta or tasering a black market boss, its electric, surprisingly physical the performance reminds us that she was always so much more than a quirky comic.

At the same time, Ford’s script does something so rare for a thriller with a badass female lead: replaces the implausible and reductive “strong woman” trope with a subtle portrayal of a distinctly flawed human being. , but relatable. Like one in five Americans, Emily is in debt and, like almost a third of her compatriots, has a criminal record that prevents her from giving herself the means to repay it.

“I need a job, a good job,” she coldly admits to her best friend Liz (Megalyn Echikunwoke) in a trendy bar. While her friend’s life is “crazy” because she travels to Portugal at her company’s expense, Emily can’t afford her rent, let alone the paint needed to make art.

When Liz arranges for her boss to interview Emily for a job as a graphic designer, it soon becomes clear that said “job” is just another full-time unpaid internship with no benefits. “I don’t understand how you feel so comfortable asking people to work without pay,” Emily told company president Alice (Gina Gershon). Sick of being pedantically schooled on the horror of the pitch while Alice was “the only woman in a room full of men”, Emily quips, “If you wanna tell me what to do, put me on the fucking pay.”

Spurred on by a colleague at her catering gig, Emily finds a different, albeit far less legal, way to improve her financial situation: as a “dummy buyer”, hoarding expensive electronics and vehicles. luxury in no time with fake credit cards to resell. . In unmarked warehouses and tinted SUVs, Emily quickly descends into a colorful underworld of immigrants, tough guys and desperate single parents, all more driven by the desire to survive than an adrenaline rush or flat-screen television. flat screen.

Click to enlarge Theo Rossi and Aubrey Plaza in Criminal Emily.  - COURTESY OF HIGHWAY ATTRACTIONS AND VERTICAL ENTERTAINMENT

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Theo Rossi and Aubrey Plaza in Criminal Emily.

“With a purchase of this size, the bank will call the seller, but it takes eight minutes,” says Youcef (Theo Rossi), the soft-spoken go-between in the deal, preparing Emily for her first big solo adventure. “You have eight minutes to leave, or they know it’s wrong.” With a techno score evoking the intoxicating music of Tom Tykwer Run Lola RunEmily packs more biting footage into her tense 90 minutes than the pumped up ones High-speed trainhalf an hour more.

As much as the film crackles like a millennial revenge tale, so Criminal Emily simmers as both a character study and a sharp indictment of America’s prison system and the structural poverty it fosters.

More obliquely, Ford’s early days testify to the ongoing great quit, in which a record number of low-wage employees voluntarily quit their jobs. Is it the penalty a degrading job that can never pay your bills? Has our national obsession with meritocratic advancement finally reached its breaking point? “The motherfuckers will keep picking you up and picking you up until you make the fucking rules yourself,” Emily concludes to Youcef at the film’s climax. “Am I wrong? Am I wrong?”

By its final scene — a plot turned towards a happy ending that overturns traditional conceptions of the latter — Criminal Emily works stealthily to suggest escape from the rat race is possible. Don’t expect to follow societal laws or acceptable feminine behavior.

Criminal Emily directed by John Patton Ford and starring Megalyn Echikunwoke, Gina Gershon, Aubrey Plaza and Theo Rossi, is currently playing at the Hi-Pointe Theatre.

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