Emily the Criminal

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

5/5 (1)

John Patton Ford has a feature length stunner in his debut, “Emily the Criminal.” This is a story not about a psychopath but a young woman who believes she has always gotten the short end of the stick and is sickened by it. The film is swift, sardonic, edgy and absolutely gripping.

Emily (Aubrey Plaza) is a young woman who wants to make it in the art field but she is saddled with thousands upon thousands of dollars in student loan debt. The hurdle is insurmountable. She applies for a high end job and almost gets it, but is stopped by an assault charge, later claiming self-defense. She doesn’t get hired.

Emily has a menial job at a catering company. It is a grind. While filling in for a coworker, Emily gets a contact with a Youcef (Theo Rossi) involving stolen electronics. Reasoning that this is a “victimless” crime, Emily goes ahead buying flatscreen TVs with stolen credit card numbers. This goes on without a hitch and Emily feels the weight of oppression a little less.

Youcef suggests another job for her. This one involves a very expensive card with no spending limits, but she has only eight minutes to complete the transaction before the bank is notified of theft.

Emily is curious and consents.

Things go smoothly. Without warning she is stopped by a worker who tells her to stop by the office. When Emily refuses, the worker tries to stop her, punching her squarely in the face.

After a two-minute chase, Emily is fed up and enraged. She sprays an officer with pepper spray.

Youcef and Emily grow closer. Youcef feels guilty about her bloody nose.

Emily knows well she is now in a realm of violence. Liz (Megalyn Echikunwoke) a die-hard school friend tells her that she is very certain she’ll find a position for her at an ad agency. But Liz is stringing her along.

Emily succeeds more or less because she keeps her composure and strikes back twice as hard. She does not relish any pain or violence that she inflicts, but rather because she is forced, out of the necessity of the moment.

Gina Gershon has a brief but striking appearance as a very hard ad agency boss.

From the first fifteen minutes on, the tension steadily increases and does not let up. The film in tone and narrative is reminiscent of Eric Lartigau’s “The Big Picture” (2010). Emily is not a psychopath, but she does seem to display evidence of sociopathology. Nothing stands in her way.

The sleight of hand in “Emily the Criminal” is that you almost but not quite root for the driven Emily in spite of her single-minded stubborn pathology.

Write Ian at ianfree11@yahoo.com

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