Aubrey Plaza's career is a curious thing. Still best known for her role on the sitcom Parks and Recreation and her deader-than-deadpan demeanor, she's nevertheless been cranking out loads of well-reviewed but little-seen independent films in which he acting talents are widely praised. I haven't seen her in anything since Safety Not Guaranteed, in which she was pretty deadpan, so I wasn't convinced. But after missing such highly-regarded titles like Ingrid Goes West and Black Bear, I finally caught an Aubrey Plaza drama in the theater. And you know what? It's true: she has grown into an excellent, serious actress.
Softening her stony disposition with a convincing New Jersey accent, Plaza plays the titular Emily, a failed artist with a criminal record (assaulting an ex-boyfriend) now living in Los Angeles, barely making a dent in her enormous student debt with an awful job delivering food to corporate lunch meetings. Given the chance to make a quick $200 by buying a TV with a phony credit card, she takes it – and soon finds herself involved in a sprawling credit card fraud scheme run by a charismatic Lebanese immigrant (Theo Rossi) and his less charismatic cousin.
Writer/director Ford, making his feature debut, plies a traditional indie style (handheld camera and so forth) but creates solid suspense. There's a pervading sense of doom here: you keep expecting Emily to get in over her head. Yet what makes the film interesting is that Emily, with her instinct for knowing when someone's trying to screw her over, is no victim here. In fact she turns out to be a very apt criminal indeed.
Emily the Criminal is a small film with no great message, but Plaza's performance and Ford's storytelling will both keep you enthralled. Worth watching.