Plaza’s performance is something to behold. All the nervous energy she has shown in her quirky and comedic roles is now bursting out in a performance that is always true, always believable, and always sympathetic, no matter the deed.
Audrey Plaza’s Emily always seems to be just one step away from the breaking point in writer/director John Patton Ford’s superb thriller “Emily, the Criminal.” A talented graphic designer who went to college, her career and life have been destroyed by a minor criminal incident in her distant past. This minor infraction excludes the possibility of Emily obtaining any regular employment. Every job interview is an exercise in humiliation. To get by, she works in the gig economy, toiling for hours in a low-paying food delivery service. And then, there is her $70,000 in student loans.
Emily’s First Purchase
So, who can blame her when she is offered the opportunity to make some extra cash? All she must do is purchase a computer or television at a department store using a fake credit card and then return it to her new “employers.” For this, she gets $200.
Director Ford beautifully handles Emily’s first “purchase,” pumping up the tension in true Hitchcock fashion until she arrives at the checkout counter. The seconds for the credit card to be authorized feel like a gut-wrenching eternity. He even dares to punch us in the parking lot again, in a brilliantly funny throw-away, as Emily wheels her fraudulent purchase towards her car.
The Job Interview
It turns out that Emily is significantly good at this criminal stuff after she has upped her defense equipment from pepper spray to Taser and box-cutter. After another disastrous interview, where she snaps back at her condescending interviewer (great cameo by Gina Gershon), who thinks that Emily should be grateful for an unpaid internship, Emily decides to go further down the criminal rabbit hole. Coached by her boss, Youcef (Theo Rossi), an immigrant who, like Emily, has had to make it in the United States with limited options, she graduates to more complex and more financially rewarding ventures. When their relationship shifts from professional to romantic, it seems right and is not just a plot device.
Always Believable, Always Sympathetic
Plaza’s performance is something to behold. All the nervous energy she has shown in her quirky and comedic roles is now bursting out in a performance that is always true, always believable, and always sympathetic, no matter the deed. And Ford’s masterful direction never falters. There are two sequences in particular – one where Emily makes a fraudulent car purchase as the clock ticks, the other where she is robbed in her apartment – that is suspense cinema at its finest.
The film is also mindful that Emily’s situation is the norm for many, and this injustice comes through in Plaza’s magnificent performance.