Sunday, 04 December 2022

‘Emily’ intense crime thriller; ‘A League’ reboot to series



‘EMILY THE CRIMINAL’ RATED R

It is often said that one should write about what they know, or at least a variation of that construct. For director and screenwriter John Patton Ford, he turned a personal story into a premise for “Emily the Criminal.”

On the surface, “Emily the Criminal” is about a woman who becomes a criminal to pay her student loans. While Ford is neither a criminal nor a woman, he graduated from school with ninety-thousand dollars of debt.

The housing crisis was still doing damage, and Ford ended up delivering food and struggling to pay the interest each month. Not the principal, just the interest.

Wanting to become a filmmaker appeared to be a daunting task, and personal experience sparked the idea of making a movie about a millennial who hits the breaking point and decides to make her own rules.

Aubrey Plaza’s Emily carries not only the burden of student debt but a record of drunk driving and felony assault. Her past indiscretions prove to be a major impediment in job interviews to advancing a career.

The only job open to her is being an independent contractor delivering food to office buildings. Not exactly a reliable position with benefits and job security.

Meanwhile, she remains pals with a fellow student from art school, who is now working at a prestigious ad agency. Emily and her friend Liz (Megalyn Echikunwoke) seem to occupy two different planets.

After doing a favor for a coworker, Emily gets introduced to the shady underworld of “dummy shopper” where she can make $200 in an hour buying goods with a stolen credit card and fake ID.

Desperate for income, Emily shows up at a warehouse where the seemingly empathetic middleman Youcef (Theo Rossi) plays it straight about the risks and rewards of the criminal enterprise.

Getting a taste for the quick buck, Emily volunteers for a bigger payday. Of course, the greater the reward, the even more dangerous risk, such as conning an auto dealer with a fraudulent purchase of a luxury vehicle.

As trust between Emily and Youcef grows, a natural attraction evolves into something more personal. Though Youcef comes across as a nice guy, he’s working with some bad people like his cousin Khalil (Jonathan Avigdori), and no good can come of it.

While Emily becomes even bolder in the fraud game, she’s not quite given up on her desire to put her artistic skills to use for a white-collar job, even if her criminal past proves to be an albatross.

A telling scene is when she finally gets an interview at Liz’s company, meeting with smug agency head Alice (Gina Gershon), who offers an unpaid six-month internship as if it were the golden ticket.

To say the least, the insult of toiling for no compensation leads to the inevitable conclusion that this is a turning point for Emily realizing she may be best suited to a life of crime.

Now that she’s drawn even closer to Youcef, will Emily get more reckless? The stakes get higher, and both of them could be placed in greater jeopardy when things get sideways with Khalil and his cohorts.

“Emily the Criminal” is an intense, gripping crime thriller, and Aubrey Plaza’s fearless Emily is something to behold. Her character is not admirable but the performance is ferocious and compelling.



‘A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN’ ON AMAZON PRIME

Some familiar with the beloved 1992 film “A League of Their Own” may be taken aback by the modern approach to a story of women in baseball substituting for the men who have gone off to fight during World War II.

One of the most jarring aspects of Amazon Prime’s eight-episode series (which this reviewer has not devoured in its entirety) is contemporary jargon that is not in tune with the era.

This serialized “A League of Their Own” is also less invested in baseball than in the drama that seems driven by an agenda revealing the challenges of women competing in what was then an exclusively male sport.

Loosely based on the Geena Davis character, Abbi Jacobson’s married Carson Shaw, whose husband is in the Army, leaves her Idaho small town to the big city of Chicago for a tryout with the Rockford Peaches.

As catcher and eventually the interim coach, Carson deals with guilt as she finds herself attracted to another star player, wisecracking Greta Gill (D’Arcy Carden).

A parallel story develops with Maxine Chapman (Chante Adams), a talented Black pitcher, who is unable to overcome the overt racism that keeps her from joining the Peaches, a team with a Mexican pitcher (Roberta Colindrez) passed off as the Spanish Striker.

Carson is not the only person wrestling with guilt and same-sex attraction. Maxine’s closeted desire would surely cause a rift in her tightknit circle of family and friends.

The most compelling drama, or at least as it appears half-way through the series, is with Maxine’s family, where strong-willed matriarch Toni (Saidah Arrika Ekulona) is in a league of her own.

Tim Riley writes film and television reviews for Lake County News.

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