By Marc S. Sanders

Aubrey Plaza becomes Emily The Criminal, a woman down on her luck with mounting debts, who resorts to credit card fraud with some low level hoods in the Los Angeles underground in order to make ends meet. 

This movie popped out at me while searching through Netflix.  It’s a little over a brisk ninety minutes, made on a shoestring budget, but it has twice the intelligence of whatever crumb of a story Avatar: The Way Of Water has with the two billion dollars spent to make big screen exhausting blue junk.  Goes back to what I always say. If you have an intelligent script, the movie will more than likely be worth watching.  Emily The Criminal is worth watching.

Normally, I don’t look at the running time of a movie before seeing it.  However, this happened to catch my eye in the screen summary just as I was about to hit play.  It’s an hour and 37 minutes.  Once the movie starts, there is a lot piled on to Emily.  First her excessive bills are established. She also has a proclivity for flying off the handle when she’s questioned about her prior arrests for assault and DUI.  Then, she is recruited with a group of others to take a fake credit card and driver’s license into a store and buy a flat screen TV.  A fast two hundred dollars is made.  The ringleader behind this scam is a guy named Youcef (Theo Rossi) who entices Emily with a more complex transaction the next day that’ll earn her two grand.  That works out, but frightening complications intersect.  Still, the cash was better, quicker, and easier to come by than her day job delivering UBER meals.  Eventually, Youcef and Emily connect with one another and she’s learning the tricks to manufacturing the cards and pulling off her own scams.  She’s good at it but not perfect, and when she trips up, a rift in trust between Youcef and his partner comes into play.  Emily is compelled to protect Youcef.

On the side, Emily also reunites with a high school friend (Megalyn Echikunwoke) who offers a line on a professional day job that could use her talents for graphic art.  Emily’s personality might not be suitable for that environment though, and the criminal underworld seems more attractive, despite the danger and risks involved.

I was never looking at my watch but as the movie progressed, I knew I had covered a lot of mileage and there still seemed to be a lot of road left to travel.  My expectations were that some questions will be left unanswered as the ending is approaching.  The cops have yet to make an appearance.  Will Emily be able to go legitimate, or does she even want to?  Most importantly, will her new friend Youcef survive his strained relationship with his business partner?  Thankfully, everything does conclude satisfyingly, and the ending ties together believably, even if there are a few conveniences that enter the frame.

I’m not familiar with Aubrey Plaza’s work prior to this film.  (I’m one of the few who didn’t get into her TV show Parks & Recreation.  My colleague Miguel refuses to let me live that down.)  However, she’s a good actor with lots of range, going from quick bursts of anger to showing mental toughness on screen against some scary people she encounters.  When she meets with a criminal in an empty parking lot who is twice her size and says a flat screen is $600, but the thug insists he’s taking it for $300, I was wondering how she’s going to get out of this one.  Plaza shows her character’s inexperience with such entanglements, but what opportunity will rescue her?  An even scarier episode happens later when Emily is getting robbed.  Plaza is sensational in both scenes.  First time writer/director John Patton Ford sets up these acts, but Aubrey Plaza always delivers it believably.  She’s brash, tough, and smart.

Ford’s film and script work because it doesn’t get too grand with itself.  The criminal world does not open itself up to the highest and wealthiest on the food chain.  Ford was smart to keep the complications of his story within this low-level demographic of delinquent offenders.  Other films would have taken the new student who quickly capitalizes over to the highest mansion on the highest mountain to where the kingpin of everything sits in his hot tub throne on the thirtieth floor overlooking a city.  Ford’s script is wise not to go beyond its reach and mire itself in flashy bloodbath violence.  Also, the window of time from when Emily first dabbles in this shady activity toward the film’s conclusion and epilogue is succinct, not spanning years or decades.  The contained routes that Ford takes with his debut film allow the misdeeds and outcomes to be convincing.

I especially took great pleasure with how the ending of Emily The Criminal circles back on itself to the beginning.  That tells me that John Patton Ford thought this storyline and his protagonist all the way through with good insight. 

Emily The Criminal is an under the radar film to look out for.


by Miguel E. Rodriguez

Director: Nisha Ganatra
Cast: Emma Thompson, Mindy Kaling, John Lithgow
My Rating: 7/10
Rotten Tomatometer: 79% Certified Fresh

PLOT: After being accused of hating women, the female host (Thompson) of a popular late-night talk show makes a “diversity hire” for the writer’s room: Molly Patel (Kaling), whose straight-talking instincts put her at odds with her boss and co-writers.

On the whole, Late Night is like the best movie Judd Apatow hasn’t made yet.  It’s funny (not explosively funny, but pointedly funny), smart, and actually has something relevant to say about a host of topics, but mostly it’s about women: women in the workplace, in Hollywood, in positions of power, in traditionally male-dominated industries, even women and sexual indiscretions.

Mindy Kaling (who also wrote the screenplay) plays Molly Patel, a chemical plant worker who lands an interview for a writing job at one of the most popular (fictional) late-night shows on television, and also the only one hosted by a woman: Katherine Newbury, played with style and wit by Emma Thompson.

(For the record, I could watch Emma Thompson read the phone book, and I would say that was also done with style and wit, and I’d probably be right.  But moving on…)

Molly’s interview is perfectly timed, because Katherine desperately needs a “diversity hire” after she is accused of hating women.  The fact that her writer’s room consists of all white men does not help her case, so Molly is hired more or less on the spot.  IMDb tells me that Mindy Kaling once interned for the Conan show, so I personally have no idea how accurate the characterizations are of these writers, but I got the feeling they were pretty spot on.  For example, when she’s first introduced to the room, a couple of the guys immediately ask her for sandwiches and coffee.  In another twist, she uses the ladies room, only to discover that, since there are so few women employed there, all the male writers use the ladies room as well…but only when “duty” calls. (…he said as he chuckled to himself.)

We have the makings of what could have been a great comedy.  As it is, we have a pretty good comedy.

My issues are at the screenplay level.  The story is awesome, the characters are awesome, and the screenplay does make some sharp criticisms of the current status quo.  (The best and funniest scene occurs when Katherine takes to the streets, a la Conan or Jimmy Fallon, and does a “White Savior” bit; it sounds terribly racist when I write it out like that, but I assure you, it’s hilarious and not a bit racist.)  But…there were times when I thought the screenplay was pulling its punches.

For example, there’s a moment when Katherine decides to deliver a politically charged joke in her monologue (it’s a doozy, by the way).  Given the plot developments by that time, I thought there would be more of that kind of material later on.  But there isn’t.  Alas.

There are lots of moments like that, when the screenplay felt like it was building to some kind of climactic, powerfully-written dialogue or monologue that would really lay into the characters and the audience, like an Aaron Sorkin script, or even like a comedy from earlier this year, Long Shot.  But it never QUITE happens.

(Okay, there IS one scene that does deliver a great payoff…it’s played out on an empty stage between two of the main characters, and it has as much heartfelt emotion and drama as any Merchant Ivory film.)

I liked this movie.  I felt like there was MORE that could have been said and done with this material that could have elevated it even more. But it is ultimately a feel-good movie that has some very funny scenes and has a lot to say. 


By Marc S. Sanders

Mindy Kaling is a terrific writer. I first discovered her on The Office, where she scripted many of the best episodes as well as performed in front of the camera. She’s hilarious. She wrote and produced the film Late Night from 2019, and while I think it’s incredibly smart with ideas on prominent female identities and the status quo of race and gender within a fictional late night television industry, it does not forgive itself for wrapping up its ending in a pretty, pink bow.

Emma Thompson is fierce as Katherine Newberry, a late night network tv host approaching 30 years in the business. She’s become a staple for the 11:30 slot, even if she hasn’t kept up with the times of Twitter and You Tube. The network is ready to cut ties with her as she has become too outdated with her material, the guests she has on, and whatever semblance of a routine she’s awarded from her team of writers, that are all white males that might not have outgrown their fraternity years but only now complain about their miserable married or single lives. It’s brought to Katherine’s attention that she doesn’t like women. To mix it up, she demands her office manager hire a woman, any woman, immediately.

Enter Mindy Kaling, as Molly Patel, with zero experience in writing or television who leaves her job at a chemical plant. Like all office films that always seem to take place in New York, the new person does not get on great with the boss, endures some humiliation, cries, but then gets a brave epiphany that catches the boss’ attention out of nowhere. Molly writes a funny pro choice/anti Republican joke for Katherine’s monologue. It eventually goes over swimmingly.

A well acted side story occurs when we get to see some pains that Katherine has while living with her loving husband, Walter, played by John Lithgow, who has Parkinson’s disease. They have some outstanding scenes together. So while the Katherine Newberry with the tough exterior works her writing team to the bone to save her reputation and show, she is also dealing with a terribly sad domestic life. Unfortunately, a one time affair that she had with a writer unnecessarily creeps its way into the film. When it becomes material for public tabloid, her show is all but dead. Now by and large, Late Night is a comedy, so how do you think this film will end? Happily of course.

I don’t take issue with a happy ending. I love them, and it’s often why I go to the movies to escape. However, this is the cutthroat business of television. Shows get cancelled frequently. Kaling’s script even demonstrates that with the network president. As well, Katherine’s demeanor demonstrates this when she fires a writer simply for asking for a raise and to spend more time with his kid. Throw in a couple of lines, however, give a monologue from the heart for your audience and suddenly the show is saved! I wish it would work this way but I doubt it really does.

Another angle the film explores is Molly as an Indian American woman intruding upon a white male dominated occupation. The story had me convinced that she overcomes these demographic obstacles. I bought it. What was hard to accept was the “one year later” epilogue where the show’s staff is made up of every variation of gender and race demographic imaginable with Thompson’s character doing a quick walk through the office to the studio. Every desk is occupied by a different looking person. How touching…and unconvincing. Again, I wish it was that easy to flip a perspective on an office staff, in just one year. Yet I don’t think it’s all that simple. This is where Kaling’s script is pandering way too much.

The performances are excellent. Kaling and Thompson have great scenes together. Lithgow with Thompson as well. Following the reveal of the affair, there’s a magnificent scene between them where they come to a resolve. Only, I think this moment belongs in another film. The affair storyline is not correlated enough to the rest of the picture. I would have abandoned it altogether and simply focus on Katherine, Molly and Walter’s struggles; surviving the business, entering the business and living with illness. The affair intrudes on the last act of the film and as soon as it bleeds, Kaling’s script patches it up too neatly. Thus, we get a happy ending that just doesn’t feel very authentic.

Mindy Kaling needs to work even further. I think she’s one of the brightest writers I know of today. She writes what she knows; about working in television and being an Indian American woman thereby bringing those facts about her background as new strengths for storylines. She only now has to be careful about not patching up the conflicts she masterfully creates with simply a cherry on top. She might turn the APPLAUSE sign on for her audiences, but that is not necessarily going to get the crowd on their feet and clapping.