EMILY THE CRIMINAL. 2022. Aubrey Plaza, Theo Rossi, Megalyn Echikunwoke, Gina Gershon, Jonathan Avigdori, Bernardo Badillo, Brandon Sklenar. Written and directed by John Patton Ford.

   Aubrey Plaza, who stars in Emily the Criminal, came up in the comedy world. I have to confess that I was mostly unfamiliar with her work until I saw her in Ingrid Goes West (2017), an exceptional dark comedy about a young woman who moves to Los Angeles in the hopes of befriending a social media celebrity. Plaza was very good in that. In John Patton Ford’s Emily the Criminal, she’s exceptional.

   New Jersey-native and art school graduate Emily Benetto is saddled with debt. She is working a dead-end catering job in downtown Los Angeles. It’s clear she’s capable of far more. But something is holding her back – a felony assault conviction from years ago. This, along with a brash take-no-prisoners attitudes, makes it virtually impossible for her to get a “normal” job. When given the opportunity to make some money off the books, Emily more or less jumps at the chance. It turns out that this chance to make $200 isn’t exactly legal. (No surprise there!). After initially walking away, Emily decides to work as a dummy shopper for a credit card fraud outfit.

   As in the case of any movie with a titular anti-hero and one with a noir bent as well, things escalate. What starts off as a one-time criminal act turns into something more substantial. Her romantic alliance with one of the members of the Lebanese credit card fraud outfit forces her to act both bolder and more recklessly. Pretty soon, it’s Emily who is calling the shots. As things get more daring and violent, Emily emerges as a new person – she’s no longer Emily the Caterer. She’s now Emily the criminal and is more than willing to use weapons to get her way.

   Numerous commentators have remarked on the film’s social commentary, citing Gen Z’s large student debt and the unfairness of the job market. I get it. Those elements are definitely in the movie, most notably when Emily – in her last ditch attempt to leave the credit card fraud world behind – is asked to work a full-time job as an unpaid intern.

   But to me, those elements are secondary to the film’s essence as a thriller. A very good one at that. Lean and barebones, Emily the Criminal works almost entirely due to Plaza’s commitment to the role and Ford’s refusal to ever dumb down his screenplay to make it more palatable to a wider audience. This isn’t a film for everybody, but for those who enjoy pulse pounding anti-hero films that refrain on passing moral judgments on their protagonists, it’s definitely worth your time.