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Release Date: 08/05/22 [Sundance Film Festival]

Genre: Crime/Drama/Thriller

Studio: Roadside Attractions / Vertical Entertainment

"Down on her luck and saddled with debt, Emily gets involved in a credit card scam that pulls her into the criminal underworld of Los Angeles, ultimately leading to deadly consequences."


Emily the Criminal was the last film I managed to catch at Sundance this year. Because I hadn’t seen many (or any) of the other critics at the festival talking about it, I did not expect much honestly.


…I was blown away.


As you can probably already tell by the title, the film revolves around a young woman named Emily, played by Aubrey Plaza, who has a criminal record. Because of that record, she’s unable to find a good job. As a result, she struggles to make a living wage. And despite wanting to live a normal life, she finds herself cornered. After one of her co-workers refers her to do a mysterious job for extra cash, however, she slowly sinks into a new life of crime - one that provides her comfort at a cost.


Now, in case you ever had any doubt about Aubrey Plaza’s versatility, you need to watch this film. Seeing her grow from bit roles to April on Parks and Recreation to such a headstrong female protagonist here has certainly solidified her as one of the most exciting actresses working today. What I love most about her performance here is how she’s able to perfectly convey the frustration that so many people in similar circumstances go through. There’s one exchange she has with a character about the idea of internships later on that feels like a literal middle finger to the country’s current workforce. I can’t commend it enough. And the fact that she’s a major reason this film was even made - she also serves as a producer - should tell you that she has the tenacity to want to tell good stories.


Now, while Plaza shines throughout, it must be said that her co-star Theo Rossi deserves recognition. Rossi, who has been playing antagonistic characters consistently since Luke Cage gives a really compelling performance as Emily’s mentor and eventual love interest Youcef. Not only does the guy need more roles, but he needs more roles like this because it was really great to see such a different side to him.


Besides Plaza and Rossi though, the biggest star of the film by far is anxiety. Believe me when I say I haven’t experienced so much anxiety watching a film since Uncut Gems. Unlike the latter film, which delivered a truly nerve-wracking final 20 minutes, the fear and apprehension is sprinkled throughout. We get a little taste during the film’s opening when we witness in arguably the worst job interview ever. Then it’s reintroduced as Emily continues to immerse herself - and becomes occasionally careless - in her new lifestyle. Considering that this is writer and director John Patton Ford’s first feature film, I’m not only impressed with how effective the film is but I’m also excited to see what he does next.

The beauty of Emily the Criminal lies in the fact that anyone can relate to it, not just ex-convicts in similar positions. It was made to show everyone how a broken system fails people trying to earn an honest living. Emily doesn’t want to return to a life of crime. A biased workforce corners her into thinking she has no other option. Whether you’ve ever been to jail or felt imprisoned by a dead end job, whether you’ve ever flat out failed or felt you could do better, this film was meant to set you free.

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