The Reel Review


Saddled with debt and frustrated by a series of dead-end job interviews, a former art student whose future job prospects are dimmed by a minor criminal record picks up a side hustle as a “dummy shopper,” using stolen credit card information to earn extra cash. Emily soon finds herself fully immersed into Los Angeles’ seedy and deadly criminal underbelly, in this crime thriller starring Aubrey Plaza.

Theo Rossi and Aubrey Plaza in Emily the Criminal

After a run of excellent movie performances hamstrung by subpar screenplays – Spin Me Round, Black Bear, Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates and Life After Beth – Plaza finally has the perfect vehicle to shine, in writer John Patton Ford’s impressive feature directorial debut. Plaza’s Emily is a frustrated, take-charge anti-hero determined to overcome an unfair system that clearly is rigged against her. As Youcef, a criminal middleman, Theo Rossi (Sons of Anarchy) becomes Emily’s criminal mentor and boyfriend. Gina Gershon (Showgirls, Bound) has a cameo as a marketing firm executive that may just be Emily’s last gasp for a legitimate job.

Aubrey Plaza in Emily the Criminal

The well-paced thriller is dark and terrifying in its realism, with Plaza fascinating in her evolution as a career criminal. We never know just what the increasingly desperate and aggressive Emily will do next. Emily the Criminal is a chilling social commentary about just how easy it is for someone stuck in bleak circumstances to find themselves involved in a life of crime just to pay the rent.


• Aubrey Plaza began her career doing improv and sketch comedy at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater. Five years after suffering a stroke which caused temporary paralysis and temporary expressive aphasia, Plaza began a six-year run in 2009 as April Ludgate on the NBC sitcom Parks and Recreation. She currently stars in the second season of HBO’s The White Lotus. 

Emily the Criminal was filmed in just 20 days in some of the most dangerous parts of Los Angeles and in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

Theo Rossi, Aubrey Plaza and John Patton Ford at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.

• Saddled with nearly $100k in student debt and working catering jobs after graduate school, John Patton Ford says he came up with the idea for Emily the Criminal after learning about a big FBI bust in his Los Angeles neighborhood involving nearly 100 “dummy shoppers” using stolen credit card information.

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