Tag Archives: Aubrey Plaza

Emily the Criminal

13 Aug

‘Emily the Criminal’: Student debt made her do it

By Tom Meek Friday, August 12, 2022


Aubrey Plaza may just be indie film’s “it” human of the moment. With accolades for performances in critically noted, smaller fare such as “Black Bear” (2020), “Ingrid Goes West” (2017) and this slide from millennial slog into crime – a Sundance hit – Plaza’s proven capable and clearly on the edge of a breakout. Directed by John Patton Ford, pulling from his experience of cracking under the weight of student loan debt, “Emily the Criminal” concocts a narrative that’s just as much character study and social commentary as it is a crime drama.

Plaza stars as the titular Emily, out of school, talented but unable to land a gig. Part of the problem is that she has a record. The publishing/graphic design industry she wants to break also into requires a demurring personality and the ability to work an internship for six-months-plus for free. Emily’s a quietly take-no-shit kind of person, but she also needs money, which leads to the occupation of the title. Shlepping as a caterer, trying to get a real job and pay off mounting bills, Emily gets hooked up through a friend with a dicey yet amiable character named Youcef (Theo Rossi), an immigrant with hopes of realizing the American Dream who’s running a credit card scam to achieve it. Emily, living the American Nightmare, gets in on it, tangentially at first. Then she and Youcef find they have more in common, including dealing with his troublesome brother who is threatening the side biz and its mounting pile of cash. We find out later about Emily’s past transgression – and god forbid if you cross her; the payback is X-Acto knife justice for a shady couple who get onto her scheme. Then there’s her interview for that coveted publishing gig (with Gina Gershon!) that’s almost as captivatingly fiery as Matt Damon’s high-rise job interview in “Good Will Hunting” (1997).

“Emily the Criminal” clicks because of Plaza. No Plaza, no clicking. Gershon and Rossi are great accoutrements who have seamless chemistry with Plaza, knowing how to play off her without deferring to her. It’s a confluence of smart casting, lived-in performances and directing by a person who understands his performers and their characters deeply. Still, Plaza: Not enough can be said about her subtlety, or how much she does with a sneer or a shift of her large, luminous eyes. It’s a filmmaking turn. After seeing “Emily” you’ll want more of her, both streaming (the above cited films are worthy) and in the future. My only (selfish) hope is that she doesn’t go commercial and get lost, the way Brie Larson (“Room”) did (“Captain Marvel”).

Happiest Season

1 Dec

‘Happiest Season’: Coming-out dramedy wrapped in a festive Christmastime bow

By Tom Meek
Thursday, November 26, 2020

Clea DuVall, the actor best known for her roles in the TV series “Veep” and “The Faculty” (1998), targets holiday tradition and family structures in “Happiest Season,” her sophomore directorial effort. The setup has Harper (Mackenzie Davis) and Abby (Kristen Stewart) heading to Harper’s very conservative parents’ house for Christmas. There’s much promise for a joyous sojourn: Abby’s got a diamond ring in her pocket at the ready for a marriage proposal at the right time, and she’ll be meeting her in-laws to be. But en route, it’s revealed Harper’s not out to her fam, and Abby’s tagged just as her roommate.

You can see where this is going a mile out, and while the two leads spark a solid chemistry, it’s Mary Steenburgen as Harper’s controlling mom Tipper (as in Gore, when she wanted to censor music?) and Aubrey Plaza, so good in “Black Bear” (2020) and “Ingrid Goes West” (2017) as Harper’s ex, Riley, who light up the screen. DuVall, who cowrote the script, adds a bevy of side threads that turn the family’s cozy manse into a maze of repression and skeletons in closet. Harper’s politician father, Ted (Victor Garber), is running for mayor of Pittsburgh (an apt setting, considering the state’s pivotal role in the recent election), and an upright appearance is demanded at all turns; and there’s something very off about the marriage of Harper’s hostile sister, Sloane (Alison Brie). Mostly the parents stand by and watch the dysfunction unfurl, until Abby’s gay male confidant (Dan Levy), sensitive to her position, drops in and poses as Abby’s hetero beau – like a “Queer Eye” cast member trying to go all Schwarzenegger. 

As sure as there’s milk and cookies on Christmas Eve, reckonings, reveals and epiphanies get unwrapped. DuVall and her talented ensemble pull it all off nicely, though the fine balance between drama and comedy gets a bit wobbly and inconsistent. The scenes between Stewart’s Abby and Plaza’s ex are the most heartfelt, emotional and genuine. Stewart, who held up the slack thriller “Underwater” this year and navigated similar territory in “Lizzie” (2018) gets her opportunities to shine, though the film feels like it should be Davis’ for the taking. The tall angular actress, imposing in the TV series “Halt and Catch Fire” and as the can-do cybernetic in “Terminator: Dark Fate” (2019), gets somewhat lost in the shuffle – a hub for all the frayed anxiety to flow thorough for so long that she never truly gets her own moment. Still, “Happiest Season” delivers all the holiday madness in entertaining form with a few different sides and trimmings to make the rewrap feel fittingly anew.