Writer/director John Patton Ford’s Emily the Criminal offers so little time to catch a breath as you inch closer to the edge of your seat the deeper Emily digs the hole she stepped in.
Aubrey Plaza (Ingrid Goes West) plays brazen yet broke Emily, who is drowning in student debt after she leaves school following a criminal conviction (we won’t say what) and works a low-paying job in food delivery. We meet Emily during a job interview that becomes an argument once her record is brought up and get a sense for her no-bullshit attitude and desperation. While Emily’s more-successful best friend Liz (Megalyn Echikunwoke) promises to help Emily get her foot in the door of the ad agency she works at, Emily takes interest when she hears about a new revenue stream, which ends up being a lot shiftier than expected. Emily’s jobs become riskier, and she starts to hesitate, but she eventually looks toward taking her “work” to the next level, while also developing a relationship with Youcef (Theo Rossi), who helps run the operation. Together, Emily and Youcef make some dangerous enemies.
While you may shake your head from seeing Emily’s choices, Rossi brought up a great point during the Q&A that’s clearly made by the film: “No criminal ever wants to be a criminal,” he said. “There’s always a means to an end.” It’s easy to see how someone in Emily’s shoes could fall into crime, and stay in it once they start to see its rewards.
Ford’s last Sundance appearance was for his short film Patrol, while he was in film school.
Emily the Criminal is his first feature film as director. Along with starring, Plaza is a producer for the film, and helped it get off the ground after the script caught her attention. Plaza also brought Gina Gershon to the project. She plays Liz’s boss, Alice, the one character with enough chutzpah to hand Emily an unwanted reality check.
During the Q&A, Ford said that, along with telling Emily’s story, he wanted to show Los Angeles for what it is, a diverse place where so many people are hustling for their dreams.
Whether you’re a fan of LA, thrillers or both, Emily the Criminal should be on your watch list.
Read all of Salt Lake magazine’s 2022 Sundance reviews.